Protecting Pylons with the Power of Light

Structural damage to pylons – the towering metal structures responsible for supporting electrical transmission cables – due to nature or sabotage can be costly. The AGILTM Fence Pylon Protection System ensures reliable asset and perimeter protection, providing peace of mind to operators and owners of critical infrastructures in the utilities, telecommunication, marine and aviation sectors.

Transmission towers, especially those that are located in remote areas, are known to be targets of thieves who steal their steel bolts and lattices to sell at metal scrap yards. One such theft caused the collapse of a 60m-tall pylon after the supporting structural parts were pilfered, resulting in massive damage and disruptions to the power network which was restored only after several days.

The early detection of threats and structural damages to pylons can therefore potentially avert costly and damaging consequences.

A case of Thailand’s pylons

Like other global power and telecommunication companies that are grappling with losses from damaged pylon structures, Thailand’s state-owned power utility, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), encountered similar challenges in ensuring the security of their pylons.

Due to the sheer size of the power network which spans 37,000-circuit km of transmission wires across the country, frequent patrolling and manual inspections of the pylons are impractical. Conventional wired-based pylon protection solutions are also unreliable, expensive and difficult to maintain and repair. Faulty cables and harsh environmental conditions that cause wear and tear to the physical infrastructure can pose safety issues to technicians and local communities.

For EGAT, ST Engineering’s AGIL Fence Pylon Protection System (PyPS) proved to be an effective, reliable and scalable asset protection solution. Designed to protect critical infrastructures such as pylons and other high-value assets, the fully integrated intelligent system leverages long-range vibration-based fibre optics technology to detect threats and monitor structural health in real-time, sending alerts via wireless communications networks for quick response and proactive maintenance.

Sensing the vibrations of an asset under attack

Vibrations are generated when there are attempts to damage, cut or climb the pylon structure. The AGIL Fence PyPs technology uses laser beam that is shone through an array of armoured fibre cables which are affixed to the towers. These cables are designed with UV stabilisers to withstand exposure to the sun.

The slightest vibration of the pylon will disrupt the laser beam, allowing the system to sense and detect possible breaches as well as structural integrity issues in the pylon. The system then analyses the data and decides whether to trigger an alarm for action.

As the intrusion is detected in real-time, the triggered alarm is broadcast over mobile networks through its mesh-like wireless sensor nodes. Operators are notified of the exact location of the breach via a centralised alarm management system. Meanwhile, a live video feed from the nearest surveillance camera is automatically pulled out for quick verification, and photos of the incident or intruder are recorded by the system for investigation purposes.

The PyPS can be integrated seamlessly with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as drones, to provide real-time monitoring and verification of potential threats to pylons. This offers a bird’s eye view of the situation and leverages artificial intelligence to improve response time at  remote sites.

Besides detecting potential intrusions, the PyPS can detect and identify possible faults through proactive maintenance to ensure optimal structural health of the pylons.

Innovative and robust asset protection

PyPS’s fibre optic technology is reliable and can withstand deployment in harsh environments. The solution can also be easily scaled to monitor hundreds and even thousands of pylon towers from a single unified platform. Being wireless, it eliminates any need for physical network cabling, while its robust system configuration and mesh-like network infrastructure ensure redundancy against signal loss. This allows PyPS to provide continuous real-time monitoring and situational awareness even if a fault happens in the system of one tower.

Furthermore, the pylon protection system is entirely solar powered for sustainability and ease of deployment, eliminating the need for mains power cabling. This lowers operating costs and eases installation at deployment sites with limited power availability. The system is supported by backup batteries as an alternative power source.

The AGIL Fence PyPS is also platform agnostic and works well with existing surveillance and security platforms. Combined with the AGIL Fence Integrated Perimeter Alarm Management System, the management of multiple disparate security sub-systems can be centralised into a unified platform and dashboard to protect multiple critical infrastructures and high-security sites.

A dependable early warning and alert system

The AGIL Fence PyPS was put to the test by EGAT in 2021. Deployed in partnership with JST Group, a leading engineering and business solution company in Thailand, it scored an impressive detection rate of more than 99 per cent during the proof-of-concept test.

The AGIL Fence PyPS managed to detect every instance of criminal behaviour in the form of knocking, drilling, grinding, removal of bolts and nuts, and humans scaling the structure. With multiple levels of wireless network redundancy and fallback, the AGIL Fence PyPS will always be ready to detect intrusions – even without a fence.

After acing every component in EGAT’s stringent testing methodology, the AGIL Fence PyPS was greenlit as an approved system.

Learn how our full suite of Smart Security and Automation solutions can help you remain agile and resilient against threats and challenges to the protection of your assets, premises and critical infrastructures.

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