Starting a drone inspection business in Belgium with Lieve Van Gijsel

[ April 13th, 2018] Listen to the story of Lieve Van Gijsel who started a drone inspection business and moved to indoor inspection to workaround the difficult Belgium legislation and start getting revenue out of drone operations right away.


By: Marc Gandillon

Lieve Van Gijsel is Business Unit Manager at Aetos Drones a company performing indoor and outdoor drone inspection in Belgium.

Lieve explains to Marc the difficulties she has met with the Belgium drone regulation when starting her business and touch base on different topics such as:

  • Her experience with the Chemical industry
  • Team organisation and team work
  • The difference between preparing an indoor vs an outdoor inspection
  • How it is like to be a woman in the industrial inspection business

Banner photo credit to LOGO

Learn how Elios is used by Inspection Companies

Audio Transcription

Marc: Hi everyone, today we are with Lieve Van Gijsel who is business unit manager at Aetos Drones, a Belgian company based in Pulle near Antwerp. Hi Lieve. Welcome to the Bounce podcast.

Lieve: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you.

Marc: You're welcome, you're welcome. Is that correct, I pronounce everything correctly, Pulle is the name of the city?

Lieve: Yes, my name is a little bit different. My name is Lieve Van Gijsel that’s French of course.

Marc: Okay. If you don't mind, I will keep going with Lieve because that’s easy to pronounce.

Lieve: Of course, it's no problem.

Marc: Okay. Today we're here to speak about you and about your company and to hear a little bit your story. I'm curious to understand how you ended up in the drone business and to learn a bit more about the story of Aetos Drones.

Lieve: Okay. Well, actually Aetos Drones is a member of a big group, Group Maes. We are specialized in everything at height. In 2014 we were working on actually repairing the blades of a wind turbine in a wind park in France. Over there, was the first time we saw a drone flying inspecting the wind turbine and at that moment we saw it as another value to our business. We started our own drone company ourselves in 2015. That’s how it started.

Marc: Okay. At the at the moment, you were already part of the Group Maes, correct?

Lieve: Yes. Indeed.

Marc: Okay. In a different business unit of the company?

Lieve: Yes. That’s correct.

Marc: Okay. Then you started with drone and what the first drone you acquired?

Lieve: That was the DJI Phantom 3. It was just to exercise, to make some nice shots. We ordered the Falcon, but it took some while before we had it, so we Phantom 3 just to excercise.

Marc: Okay. Did you do some mission with the Phantom 3 at the time or just--

Lieve: A few movies yes, that's it.

Marc: Okay. No inspection actually?

Lieve: No. We didn't have a legislation at that moment so it wasn’t possible.

Marc: Okay. There was essentially a problem of legislation that retain you from starting the inspection the inspection business with drones?

Lieve: Yes, we started 2015 and the legislation is there since April, 2016. We had a lot of time to prepare ourselves, to buy the goods, the drones we needed, to take a look at the industry we wanted to work in, to do the educations. We actually started in 2016 in August.

Marc: Okay. What was the first mission that you provided with drones?

Lieve: It was inspections with the Falcon. Yes, inspections. No, no I'm lying, it was a mapping. That was the first job we had. It was a mapping at the end of the year of volume calculation, stock piles. That's the first thing we did.

Marc: Okay. Today, you have a broader offer in terms of inspection and services, what kind of mission do you do today?

Lieve: What we do mostly is inspections, a lot in the chemical parts, like the big ones the BASF those sites, inspections of chimneys, flare stacks, those kind things, but also indoor.

Marc: You are part of the Flyability's customers.

Lieve: Yes.

Marc:  You do indoor and outdoor correct?

Lieve: Yes. Correct.

Marc: Okay. How do you combine this service? How does it look like during your day?

Lieve: Mostly it's just one or insides, or outsides. If not, we just take both drones. We're always two pilots. My colleague is mostly flying and I arrange all the paperwork, all the administration, just follow where he's flying, make some notes on the plans and afterwards do the inspections, take the photos out of the videos. Write reports.

Marc: Right. Your colleague is mostly the pilot and you're more the inspector, actually?

Lieve: Yes. Indeed.

Marc: Okay. What's your background?

Lieve: You really want to know?

Marc: Yes.I'm curious.

Lieve: I'm a physiotherapist.

Marc: Seriously? How did you end up in the drone business? How did you end up in the inspection business in the first place? I'm curious.

Lieve: Well, that's a long story. I just started as a physiotherapist, but I didn't like it. Then I moved, I've always done logistics things, also for Group Maes, but then I got the possibility to start a drone business. Actually, I do not have a background in inspections. We just create 3D models for example, and we offer this to our customer, so he can inspect his installation himself, from behind his computer. That's what we do. I do not have knowledge of all the installations, of course.

Marc: Right. You're less on the engineering side of things. What you do is capturing data and formatting it, so that you can deliver it to your customer, but then your customer is in charge of analyzing and making conclusion out of this?

Lieve: Yes.

Marc: Okay. You mentioned a few names of large company in the oil and gas, is that the main industry you serve or-- No, it was chemical, sorry. Excuse me.

Lieve: Yes, chemical. Yes, it is the focus. This one and now we're going to focus on the wind industry more because the other companies of the group work at-- For instance, the blades of the wind turbine, we want to focus on both of them, the wind industry and the chemical industry.

Marc: Okay. For the wind industry that will be mostly outdoor flights, I guess?

Lieve: Yes. I've heard that they did a test with the Elios inside the blades. I would love to try that.

Marc: Yes, you should. We did have a proof of concept or a trial project where we actually flew inside the pale of a wind turbine, that was a quite large turbine, this is something to indeed try and see if you can make it part of your services. I'm going back to these big names that you mention in the chemical industry, how was the idea of inspecting indoor with drones received by these companies?

Lieve: Very good, because they do not have to send people into confined spaces anymore, in dangerous environments. We once flew in dangerous fibers tanks, it is called asbest or ceramic fibers, they're dangerous for the human health. Now, we send just the drone inside, even pitch dark environments we can see, we can make nice images. They were really glad to have this solution.

Marc: That was mostly health and safety reason?

Lieve: Yes.

Marc: Okay. Do you know if they have any return on investment in term of down times or-

Lieve: Of course, yes.

Marc: -installation because you don't have the mean of access to put in place because you're sending a drone, I guess they--

Lieve: Yes.

Marc: Okay. Do you have any clue how much time they save by going to a company like yours?

Lieve: I guess a lot. If we inspect the tank that will take us one day, if they have to do this with scaffolding, the cost is very high and it takes a lot more time.

Marc: What's the time difference? Maybe two days for--

Lieve: It's a lot more.

Marc: A lot more than that. Okay.

Lieve: Yes.

Marc: Pretty interesting. We often hear the problem of going into an explosive environment or an explosive atmosphere, is that something that you have run into at some point in your experience with flying indoor?

Lieve: You mean those ATEX environments?

Marc: Correct, yes.

Lieve: We get that question a lot of times. If the environment is ATEX, then we're not able to fly in it, that's clear, but then they need to clean the tank or make it safe as well , but we cannot fly in an ATEX environment.

Marc: Absolutely. I often her this problem of the ATEX and it's usually a dream that the plant manager would have that suddenly you can fly your drone without cleaning the environment, but when we start talking about preparing the environment to make it accessible for humans because basically, that's where you end up, you have to clean it to make it accessible for a human then you still send a drone and save on the safety of not sending someone. I was curious to hear if this argument, how it was received by your customers.

Lieve: Yes. It's the same argument indeed, but the difference is, if they cleaned the tank either to send people inside or to send the drone inside, there is still a difference. We can inspect the whole tank on one day. If they need to install scaffolding, they're just going to inspect one side of the tank then they do not take a look at the whole thing. One side is not then they say, "Okay. It will be completely like this".

Marc: Okay. That means they are already creating artificial savings by not inspecting the entire tank because of the cost of-

Lieve: Yes.

Marc: -putting up scaffolding. Okay. By using drone, they not only save on the safety aspect, the downtime, but also they have a more thorough inspection.

Lieve: Yes. indeed. Yes. that's true.

Marc: Good. That sounds like a lot of advantages to it to go and use company like you who have experience in indoor drones. Every drone company has its own recipe to make a good inspection and to make sure that you collect all the information. I'm curious to know what is your recipe or your secret recipe for good and thorough mission.

Lieve: First of all we have a very good pilot. He knows how to fly the drone because one time we had a tunnel we had to inspect and there was only one hole we could fly through. That was really hard to find the way back, we really need to take a very good look at the level of your battery. Fly safe, try to come back in time. On the other hand, I'm standing next to him. I'm making notices on the plans where we see defects, problems. We're always two persons to do the inspection.

Marc: A lot of team work is necessary?

Lieve: Yes. Indeed. Yes.

Marc: Okay. How do you prepare the mission? Do you usually ask for the plans?

Lieve: Yes.

Marc: Okay. This way you know where are the obstacles, the main obstacles, the risks. You have a risk assessment, something like this? Did you do prior to any mission?

Lieve: Yes. First of all, we ask for the plans then we ask them if there are some dangerous objects inside the installation like pins which could enter the frame of the drone. Then we start flying. Sometimes, you need to be lucky as well.

Marc: [laughs] Yes. Yes. How does that compare to an outdoor mission because the preparation is slightly different when you fly outdoor?

Lieve: Yes. To fly outdoor you need to do a lot more paperwork for the government just to fulfill all those modifications and permissions. Indoor there is no legislation, you just go there and you fly. That's a big difference, yes.

Marc: It's much more simple in term of paperwork to fly indoor?

Lieve: Yes. That's the reason why we started flying indoor in the beginning of the the new legislation we had troubles to get the permissions. At that moment, we decided to go fly indoor because it was much easier. Yes, That's why we started it.

Marc: Okay. Interesting. It is a legislation problem that actually brought you to fly indoor instead of outdoor? Usually we hear stories where people start to fly outdoor first and then they discover that they can extend their services and then fly indoor. It's an interesting story. Actually, you're the first woman I meet who is actually flying drones to perform industrial inspections. I'm quite curious because drones are often pictured as men's staff and I'm curious. How do you become a successful woman in the drone business?

Lieve: Maybe, it's because I'm one of the only women, maybe that's success factor I don't know. On the other hand, I'm not afraid to dress like-- Once we flew into tanks with sulfuric acid and we had to wear really funny costumes. I don't mind to do that and I don't know if every woman wants to wear those things. Sometimes, I'm outside in the mud and I don't care.When I'm there people look at me they think I'm an alien, but I don't mind.

[laughter]

Marc: Well at least it's great to have women in this industry and a little bit of diversity. I think it brings good things to this industry. I still have a question for you, among the missions that you have performed or the inspections, I don't know how you call them actually. Is there any mission that was absolutely memorable, something that you would remember forever?

Lieve: Yes. I think the one I just mentioned, the sulfuric acid, that was-- My customer asked me before we started, we realized that you will lose your drone? Yes, we do. After a while, everything that was black became purple and the red parts from the camera were yellow. [laughs]

Marc: It damaged the drone?

Lieve: Of course, yes. It damaged the drone, yes. We flew five out of six tanks and then we had a problem with the lights, they burned.

Marc: It's quite aggressive environment?

Lieve: Yes, of course. Yes.

Marc: How did you manage that because you're actually exposing your equipment to some risks. You have some insurance for that? Do you include that in your contract?

Lieve: Yes. That was included in the contract because we knew that the drone was not going to survive the mission, but they really needed to see the tanks from the inside, they were 40 years old and no one could ever enter those tanks, so they were really glad with the images we delivered them.

Marc: Out of the images that you could produce were they able to-- I don't know, prepare to schedule some repairs--

Lieve: Yes. They had to repair the stones, it's like tiles, it was completely with tiles inside and they really had to repair them all.

Marc: Then with this information, they were able to have a better--

Lieve: To get money. [laughs]

Marc: Yes. Of course, to save on the future. Okay. Interesting. I appreciate that you could share with us your experience. For those who are listening to us in Belgium they can reach out to you. What's the best way to get in touch with you Lieve?

Lieve: They can send me an email. Maybe, info is easier than my name. info@aetosdrones, A-E-T-O-S drones.be or just give me a call 032473733881.

Marc: You have also a website which they can check for--

Lieve: Of course, yes. www.aetosdrones.be

Marc: Thank you very much Lieve for being with us today. I hope you had a good time as well and thanks for sharing with us and talk to you soon.

Lieve: Thank you for inviting me.

Marc: No problem you're welcome. Bye bye.

Lieve: Bye bye.

Marc: Bye.

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