Sterblue performs fully automated hyperbolic cooling tower inspections in the US

December 18, 2020

In early 2019, Sterblue was announcing big plans to re-invent the world of energy infrastructure inspections into the United States. Shortly after, the company took an important step towards achieving that goal. Thanks to the collaboration with a large American utility, Sterblue has learned and grown massively, ending up performing a premiere project on American soil: the first fully automatic hyperbolic cooling tower inspection, as described by Commercial UAV News.

The success of the operation gave Sterblue and the utility confidence to begin discussing larger inspection initiatives. Since then, Sterblue has executed contracts to inspect three additional plants owned by the major American company, with expectations to inspect the entire fleet before the end of 2021.

It all started with EPRI’s Incubatenergy Labs

Sterblue builds the central platform for automatic inspections of industrial assets. The startup first worked with the major American utility in summer 2019, when selected through Incubatenergy Labs, a technology acceleration program led by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Following the program, the utility challenged Sterblue for a series of pilot projects focused on innovation. One of which consisted of inspecting an entire cooling tower using drones and artificial intelligence.

Despite the experience with wind turbines and transmission and distribution grid, at that time Sterblue had never inspected a concrete structure. Thus, the possibility of expanding to a new application represented a challenging but undeniable opportunity for the growing company.

Photogrammetry 3D model of a cooling tower in Sterblue Cloud platform.

Inspecting a ~330ft cooling tower using Sterblue solutions

In mid-August 2019, Sterblue performed an exterior inspection of a power plant’s hyperbolic cooling tower concrete shell. Over three days, an off-the-shelf drone connected to Sterblue’s mobile app flew around a ~330ft (~100m) cooling tower, with a diameter ranging between 164 and 246ft (50 and 75m). This equates to an area larger than two American football fields.

Once the operation was complete, close to 10,000 pictures were uploaded and organized in Sterblue Cloud platform. After that, Sterblue’s dedicated AI models for cooling towers were able to automatically detect and quantify cracks, spalling and other anomalies in the concrete infrastructure. This allowed the American utility to save time extracting insightful analytics and inspection reports, which is key to monitor the health of such critical assets.

Defects automatically detected by Sterblue AI tool for cooling towers in Sterblue Cloud platform.

“We are very proud for having supported our customer at this complex and capital inspection. Today, Sterblue can inspect an entire cooling tower in less than a day and detect and visualize 0.011in (0.3mm) precision defects. This represents a time saving of more than 50% on the overall process.” Nicolas Draber, Chief Operations Officer at Sterblue

Sterblue and the utility are now exploring further opportunities to use the technology. Learn more about Sterblue’s solutions for cooling tower inspections here.

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