Using Drones to Inspect Our Equipment

For Julie Néron and Benoît Brassard, both process technicians in the Research and Development – Carbon group, daring and ingenuity are part of everyday life. They are always keen to leverage new technology to improve processes, production, and health and safety in the plants. And they now have a new skill—drone piloting. Drones are a proven technology with innovative potential to improve equipment inspection and maintenance, among other things.

“As carbon process technicians, we play a pivotal role because we work in several facilities,” Néron said. “We have to stay in tune and be aware of the problems people deal with at the plants so that we can come up with solutions to improve the basics and reimagine the aluminium of tomorrow.”

She added, “The drone is small enough to get into tight spaces. So, by using it, we avoid the risks of working in confined spaces, and our inspections are quicker and more accurate. For example, we recently had to inspect the emergency stack at Arvida Works’ coke calcination centre. To do this, we would normally need to use a cradle and a crane to get into the flue. But we managed to do the same inspection using our drone. After only an hour, we were able to capture the images we needed and eliminate risks to our front-line employees.”

The state-of-the-art drone is equipped with sensors to easily navigate its surroundings. It has a high data capture capability with a 4K camera to spot even the smallest cracks. Its powerful lighting system is also useful for getting a full and clear view of confined spaces.

Technological shift

In recent years, a technological shift has occurred at RTA. With the integration of new technology, the team wants to establish traceability from raw material to the final anode. “We have our managers’ ears, and they are open to suggestions,” said Néron. “We are committed to moving things forward, and their openness gives us the chance to do so. We are able to record data and establish traceability using technology. We want to create value in a way that can be used in all plants.”

Brassard added, “At the end of the day, the use of technology simplifies our operations. To reimagine aluminium, technology must be at the service of our people and promote safety through responsible practices.”