Running a big factory isn‘t easy. It is not supposed to be easy either – you have to monitor all your equipment, making sure it is safe and as efficient as it can be. Some machinery can be quite difficult to inspect. For example, automotive factories have high-rise gantries, pipework spanning the distance of the ceiling, tall robots and so on. That is why Ford is now using drones at the company’s Dagenham Engine Plant in the UK.
While this solution seems to be obvious, it is quite unique – we haven’t seen anything like this in other car factories in the world. Usually they employ solutions that were used in this Ford factory as well. Workers carried out this important maintenance work by using automated extendable platforms and scaffolding. This job in itself was not easy, because people had to check 40-metre-long gantries that support the plant’s heavy machinery. This work took laborious 12 hours to complete and was probably quite scary for the inexperienced ones. But now the same work can be done much quicker using drones with action cameras.
Inspectors now can keep their feet safely on the ground – they just need to grab a remote, which controls a drone with GoPro cameras. Maintenance team can now carry out the same inspection that used to take up to 12 hours in just 12 minutes. In fact, entire factory can be inspected in a day and the quality of the inspections will also improve. Some areas are hard to reach for people, but the drone will fly there no problem. Of course, that does require some pilot skills, but the operation is completely safe. In fact, Ford thinks that this innovation is going to improve the overall safety in the plant, because inspections can be organized more frequently.
The reason is that previously inspections required a lot of work and a certain safe area around the automated extendable platforms and scaffolding. Now the maintenance procedure is much quicker and doesn’t require as many people. This means that inspections can be carried out without stopping the workflow in the factory. Pat Manning, machining manager, Ford Dagenham Engine Plant, said: “We’d joked about having a robot do the work when there was a lightbulb moment – use drones instead. We used to have to scale heights of up to 50 metres to do the necessary checks on the roof and machining areas. Now we can cover the entire plant in one day and without the risk of team members having to work at dangerous heights”.
This simple upgrade will bring significant improvements and, hopefully, will help maintaining even higher safety standards. Even though Ford did not mention that, it actually could reduce maintenance costs as well, which is why other factories could be following this example very soon.