Pipeline inspection with UAV thermal diagnostics



Pipeline – this is defined as a “special form of transport used to transport liquids (i.e. liquids and gases), or liquid mixtures with solid particles”. The issue of thermographic pipeline inspection applies to long-distance piping systems supplying variable media with a temperature different from the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere. By using thermographic systems, it is possible to determine and localize defects to pipeline insulation and leaks of the transferred media. In some cases, leaks can even be determined and localized in underground pipelines.

The reliability of the piping can suffer through poor design, improperly selected material or a defective construction of the whole transport system or from unexpected conditions when in the operation. This text deals with external piping systems that are permanently affected by atmospheric influences and are threatened by unpermitted interventions (mechanical damage due to lack of knowledge, accidents or intentional actions). The damage can be reflected as weakening of the cladding on the external insulation and leaks of heating energy, as well as breaks in the piping and the loss of the transported medium. At the same time, there is the risk of the wear on the thickness of the piping through internal corrosion (during the transport of aggressive liquids) or mechanical stressing (in the case of the transport of non-homogeneous materials with solid particles).

Aviation inspection of pipelines

To resolve the problem of inspecting long-distance pipelines, an elegant and simple solution is available at first sight. Application of UAV with a camera that can fly above the whole length of the pipeline while recording and displaying the monitored scene in real time.


The operator controlling the drone from a safe place has an immediate overview of the condition of the pipeline and if identifying a defect, can focus in detail and personally check the area. However, a traditional camera for the visible spectrum discovers only a fraction of the defects, or records only areas with visible damage or leaks.

A traditional camera does not detect defects to internal heat insulation and the escapes of media below the surface of ground. With the timely discovery of areas where the insulation is thinner or where the cladding on the tube is damaged, major accidents can be prevented that would result in economic losses and a threat to the health and lives of the public. A thermal camera can detect such defects and record the thermal radiation of objects. On the basis of the difference to the surface of the pipeline and the experience of the operator, hidden defects can be found.

3689678816?profile=originalIt is easy to identify where the insulation is damaged and heat losses occur (during the transport of heating media). In the case of underground pipelines, any penetration of hot water causes the affected earth to heat up so it is possible to discover where the pipeline is broken underground. This means that, it is no longer necessary to excavate kilometres of pipelines due to the discovery of the place of escape. The different temperature of the background and thin areas mean there is a risk of the pipe breaking so timely intervention may prevent fatal consequences.

Why to use Workswell AIRvision

The company Workswell developed the Workswell AIRvision system, which combines two camera systems - a visible spectrum camera (for inspection of visible defects found by thermal camera) and a thermal camera for detecting the problems mentioned above. The servicing software enables to remotely switch camera regimes, to record radiometric videos or to make static images in both the visible and infra-red spectrum. The operator sees the objects under the drone in real time or can analyse records and identify damaged areas.

Moreover, Workswell AIRvision, unlike similar systems, enables to manually set the range of temperatures, e.g. in the interval of 15 °C to 25 °C. Even this range of temperatures can be changed during the flight. Without the need to land, the system actual situation can be set for the system and to easily achieve the required thermal sensitivity setting, which is required for the localization of minor moisture defects or the most precise localization of large defects. Traditional photo documentation is required to localise a defect, therefore, the Workswell AIRvision video camera is of sufficient quality to produce a traditional photo. Moreover, the system can be fitted with a GPS sensor for storing information about the position of the drone when creating a record.

The system can measure temperature at the central point, as well as in the local minimum and maximum. Minimum and maximum are localized using a blue (minimum) and red (maximum) cross. This function can also be used to navigate drones because the system automatically shows where the largest potential problem is located.

Produced records are fully radiometric, including videos. After termination of the flight, the records can be evaluated using the Workswell CorePlayer software to produce a measurement report on measurement with the exact localization of the problems. For this reason, a photo is available of all produced thermal images (thermogram).


Individual photos from the radiometric video can be taken and used as separate thermal images (thermograms) to analyse a problem.

More informations about drone thermal imaging system Workswell AIRvision including datasheet and drawings.

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  • What sensor are you using and at what frequency does it operate?
  • We offer 640x512px and price is about 9995 EUR including full accerory pack.


  • sorry, I mean max. 25 meters

  • @Tom: 100 is pretty much distance... we can talk about max. 25 with standard lens and resolution about 615x480px

  • Very interesting, you can also use the camera for leak detection taking advantage of the temperature drop generated by the Joule-Thomson effect.
    They have tested the effectiveness of the camera 100 meters away?
    PD: Sorry for my English.

  • @Darius: Our experience is, that with thermal imaging camera, you are ten times faster that with hand held camera. And for each picture, you can save your GPS location, so you can evaluate technical condition very accurate and quickly.

    If pipelines are long, it could take a few days with handheld camera and some places are badly accessible with handheld system.

  • @Michal: you are true. If the surface is reflective you can not measure the surface temperature. That is a physical law and there is no "cheat". But, fortunately, the surfaces of pipelines is mostly painted by some industrial paint, so than is possible to measure the temperature very easily.

  • It looks interesting, but would you be so kind and show me how your camera treats pipes covered by reflective sheets of metal? There is small amount of pipes covered with epoxy composite that is good for your camera inspection, but majority is covèed by zincum like metal cover. This kind of pipes just cant be inspected by thermal camera easy. Maybe you have found something that allow your cam to get temperatures from reflective body? Please tell us about it.
  • @Drone thermal camera,

    you are exactly right.

    Modern pipelines are made of factory foam pre-insulated and pre-shielded pipe segments, welded together and xRay inspected on site, so there is technology risk of any leakage or insulation failure.

    In case of old pipelines in operation, you are correct, they should be inspected from time to time.

    The issue is heating media transported today by pipelines, for central heating, is superheated steam at a temperature well above water boiling point at 100 C, so temperature drop recorded on your thermal image is an evidence of proper insulation:

    temperature drop from 120 C (or 200 C) to 25 C, Delta T is about 100 grades, so insulation works properly and overall pipeline's system's performance and efficiency is not affected.

    Directing your thermal camera at human body you can detect more temp drop/ raise spots, still not subject to suspicion of any health problems.

    Your mobile thermal camera is high-tech technology tool.

    To operate thermal camera drone you need a van, drive, drone's operator to operate drone manually since you risk drone crash if operated via flight mission.

    Manually operated thermal camera is more flexible since you can inspect some spots

    for a longer time and detect more problems on site, you can point camera upward

    and get high-res spot video with telezoom.

    Large, long pipeline systems are inspected by satellite cameras (IR, thermal systems).

    Video recording ground based pipeline is not an issue, the problem is with overhead pipeline segments as featured on your images, acting as obstacle to your drone.

    You really need to work hard to promote your technology since competition is high on Alibaba, Aliexpress with hundreds of hand-held thermal camera offers which can be easily turned into thermal video recorders, WiFi thermal imaging brodcasters, if gimbal mounted.

    Wish you luck and prosperity


  • Darius Jack: You're right. But with a thermal imager you can evaluate the technical condition and schedule any repairs of thermal insulation... 

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