Electricity provider Ausgrid says a drone with a 3D-printed “hook” was recently used to untangle 800 metres of twisted powerlines in a remote and inaccessible part of the electricity network in Sydney’s north.
The twisted wires were caused by strong winds and discovered during a routine tower inspection in a large valley between Davidson and St Ives, and Ausgrid claimed the process of using a drone to untangle the wires was a “world first”.
The company partnered with drone technology company Infravision, whose clients also include other electricity providers PNG Power, TransGrid and Evoenergy.
“While the tangled wires weren’t immediately affecting power supply, the friction between the two wires would have eventually severed them, potentially cutting power to 70,000 customers,” Kelly Wood, Ausgrid’s executive general manager of network delivery services, said.
“Replacing broken lines in such an inaccessible area would be a major job, so we were hopeful Infravision could come up with a solution to untangle the wires.”
Paul Crawford, Infravision’s director of operations, said the team worked out a method to utilise a heavy-lift drone with a specially designed hook and release mechanism to lift and untangle the wires.
“Our engineering team designed several 3D-printed ‘hook’ attachment prototypes, and after extensive testing a final version was decided on for this project,” Mr Crawford said.
“The hook, tether and release mechanism had to be able to withstand extreme loads, be non-conductive, and designed in a manner to minimise the risk of any further entanglement and prevent any further damage to the cable during the operation.
“It was also designed to allow the wire to easily slide into the hook, making it easier for the drone pilot to engage and reposition the wire.”
As the drone was working with high voltage lines, Infravision needed to design an automatic release mechanism to detach the hook in an emergency, allowing it to roll off the wire and prevent it from being caught on the line.
The use of drone technology meant Ausgrid personnel and the community were exposed to “significantly less risk”, the company said, as there were no individuals working at height and no low-flying helicopters used.
“After an initial test flight to view the wires, the drone with the hook was deployed and performed several lifts, untangling the wire in 40–60 metre sections at a time until the lines were completely untangled,” Ms Wood said.
“I believe the success of this joint operation will be a gamechanger for Ausgrid and other companies which are moving towards an increased use of drone technology to improve the safety and efficiency of business operations in the future.”
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