image of electric utilty pole with metal inspection tags.

Streamlining Utility Inspections: Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative Corporation Success Story with gNext

Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative Corporation (AVECC), based in Ozark, Arkansas, is an innovative utility cooperative that distributes electricity. They are a community-centered energy provider and engine of economic development, operating in eleven counties in Arkansas and three in Oklahoma.

Their member equity is a staggering 37.90% against their total electric plant value of more than $264 million. AVECC has more than 6,600 miles of distribution lines, 36 electrical substations, and more than 59,000 electric services. The Co-Op is also dedicated to reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy. Focusing on innovation, they also sought to sharpen their utility infrastructure inspection process.

In the evolving landscape of utility inspections, accurate data capture is critical. Focused on harnessing innovative technology, AVECC sought a solution to enhance its utility inspection processes and found a game-changer in gNext. This case study will detail the challenges AVECC faced while performing utility inspections and the results after finding their solution with gNext.

The Challenges with AVECC’s Utility Inspections

AVECC was on a mission to streamline and enhance their utility inspections, striving for efficiency and precision in their operations. The Co-Op faced unique challenges, such as complicated software, georeferencing complexities, and the overall need for efficiency.

Lack of Utility-Specific Software

Since its inception in 1937, the Co-Op has consistently grown while keeping an eye on innovating current operations and processes.

Levi Young, GIS Analyst at AVECC, noticed there was an opportunity to speed up annotating and marking up issues during inspections, which were previously done manually. While they were using a software system to assist with inspections, it wasn’t geared specifically to their processes.

Inspection tag on electric utility power pole

Manual Georeferencing

Utility pole marking tags play a crucial role in identifying ownership and maintenance responsibilities. However, factors like wildlife or weather interference often cause these tags to go missing. This posed a challenge, as it made it difficult to maintain an efficient and accurate inventory.

Manually georeferencing pole inspection photos can be time and labor-intensive. To address this, AVECC recognized the new opportunity to streamline its operations. Young articulated this by stating, “Before our partnership with gNext, georeferencing photos was labor-intensive, demanding a lot of time and resources. Our manual approach limited the scalability of our operations and left room for potential errors.”

By adopting technology-driven solutions, AVECC aims to enhance its inventory management system and ensure accurate identification of utility poles. This will not only save time and effort but also enable them to provide better service to their customers.

Lack of Streamlined Workflows

Pole and transmission line inspections were done according to traditional methods. Pole inspections were done using equipment and staff to ascend each pole, inspect the area, and capture photos. Transmission inspections involved renting trucks and sometimes helicopters to capture inspection data, which was costly and time-consuming and didn’t always produce the best quality data.

Young described the situation with their traditional workflows, “Transmission inspections involved the cumbersome process of renting large trucks or even helicopters to navigate between sites, resulting in inaccurate inspections.”

A helicopter flying about power lines.

A Partnership with gNext

In its exploration of a solution, Young mentioned, “Our Skydio representative played a pivotal role in introducing us to gNext. Skydio emphasized that gNext would be the best partner for our needs.”

“Working with gNext has been more than a partnership; it’s been a collaborative effort. From the initial meetings to ongoing support, the team at gNext has shown a genuine commitment to our success. The close connection between AVECC and gNext has allowed for effective communication and a level of customization that sets them apart in the industry,” Young went on to say.

The partnership extended beyond software. It involved collaboration and responsiveness from the AVECC and gNext teams. “The open communication with the gNext team was key. Working closely with the team helped contribute to the evolution of some of the features we use. It’s a partnership that goes beyond typical vendor-client relationships,” Young stated.

The relationship facilitates mutual understanding and enables AVECC to contribute to refining gNext’s features, ensuring a more tailored and effective solution for their needs.

The Solution with gNext and AVECC

With gNext, AVECC found a tailored solution that streamlined processes and revamped its approach to utility inspections. The Co-Op experienced a multitude of benefits that revolutionized its approach to utility inspections:

  • Improved overall safety and efficiency in substation measuring
  • More efficient transmission line inspections
  • Generate detailed reports and a comprehensive paper trail
  • Improved georeferencing capabilities
  • Leveraged change-over-time comparison
  • Annotate data seamlessly
  • An automatic central repository of all inspections
  • Execute quick data processing

Enhanced Safety Measures

The shift to gNext has not only helped AVECC streamline inspection processes but has also enhanced safety measures. Young noted, “One of us can go out to the field, fly the drone, and finish data collection in less than a day.” The move to drone-based inspections without requiring employees to be physically present within the job site enhances safety by avoiding exposure to potential risks or hazardous weather conditions.

The ability to perform inspections without much “downtime” or shutting down power allows for continuous operations, which helps contribute to a safer and more efficient workflow. The digital measurements gNext provides empower AVECC with valuable data for future planning and maintenance, offering a proactive approach to addressing potential issues.

Streamlined Inspection and Reporting

The integration of gNext has helped revamp the inspection workflow. Young emphasized the convenience of annotating and marking issues directly within the software, reducing the heavy manual effort. The gNext Platform also allows for real-time data processing, ensuring that inspections are more streamlined and efficient.

The seamless integration saves time and provides a comprehensive digital paper trail and reporting system. The reporting functionality allowed AVECC to effortlessly generate detailed reports on their inspection findings. This helped them identify trends and make data-driven decisions.

The gNext Platform’s real-time data processing capabilities have further streamlined inspections, offering the Co-Op’s engineers a more effective starting point for their inspections.

Enhanced Georeferencing Capabilities

Additionally, the georeferencing capabilities within the gNext Platform ensured precise location tracking for each inspection point. Regarding the missing pole tags, gNext can assist AVECC by providing GPS coordinates for the pole thanks to drone-collected data. The GPS coordinates and visual documentation through the gNext Platform eliminated the reliance on physical pole tags. “The future with gNext and drones is limitless,” Young stated.

Tracking Damage Over Time

Leveraging gNext’s change-over-time comparison feature, AVECC has easily assessed changes to its assets. Monitoring woodpecker damage on utility poles is a common challenge AVECC faces. Young highlighted the impact, stating, “I can draw a box around the damage in gNext, mark what type of damage it is, then quickly move on to the next inspection picture.” The change-over-time feature allows AVECC to complete a quick and thorough assessment of woodpecker damage over a year, providing a means of tracking and addressing the issue.

Annotate with Ease on the gNext Platform

gNext’s integration with Skydio drones played a pivotal role in expediting AVECC inspections. The annotation feature proved especially beneficial, replacing the labor-heavy manual annotation task with innovative tools, allowing AVECC to mark and document issues with a click of a button.

Young mentioned, “The annotation feature in gNext has been a boon. No more manual annotation; we can mark and document issues easily, making the inspection process much smoother.”

Time and Cost Savings

AVECC experienced considerable time and resource savings by transitioning from renting large vehicles to leveraging drones for data collection, specifically the DJI m300 and Skydio drones. The drastic reduction in inspection time, especially in transmission inspections, has translated to significant cost savings and eliminates the need to rent unruly equipment. With gNext, AVECC has successfully transitioned from a manual approach to using drones, significantly enhancing the safety and efficiency of utility inspections.

Empowered Decision-Making Through gNext

With a joint commitment to innovation, discussions sparked about leveraging AI for enhanced defect identification. The potential for AI integration for auto-detection points of interest in various components, including wood poles, substations, metal poles, insulators, etc., leaves Young enthusiastic about the future. He expressed excitement about the prospect of using AI to assist in identifying issues such as polymer degradation, signs of burning, and heat-related anomalies.

The partnership between AVECC and gNext is not just about solving immediate challenges but envisioning a brighter, safer future. AVECC is improving its inspection processes, opening the door to a future of efficiency, safety, and technological innovation. This partnership is a journey toward a more digital and automated future, enabling real-time decision-making for maintenance and utility inspections.

Interested in learning more about gNext and how we can help streamline infrastructure inspections? Request a demo to watch gNext in action. Follow us on LinkedIn for updates and the latest platform releases.

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