The Ford Motor engine factory in London has started to use drone technology in their facility. The US automaker has started using drones to perform important inspections in areas that are hard to access around the Dagenham Engine Plant. This unconventional move is proving to be useful as it saves the automaker a lot of time as well as money.
In the past, factory managers had to shut down operations at least once annually in order to perform time consuming and risky inspections. These inspections include all of the elevated structures, rooftops and more. The drones allow for inspections fast and conveniently without having to shot down the plant. According to Pat Manning, the machine production manager stated that using drone video footage provided a great tool because it allows the inspectors to pinpoint exactly where an issue is and come up with an effective strategy to resolve it without wasting time or putting people’s lives at risk.
For example, one of the most common types of inspections involves looking at overhead structures referred to as gantries. Gantries are long linear frames that support a robotic arm. These arms are used to pick up parts from one place within the factory and drop them off at another location inside the factory. Without drones, inspecting gantries was a hard and risky job. Inspectors had to use cranes, and other machinery including being suspended from the roof to inspect the gantries. With over 200 gantries operating in the plant, it was dangerous and time consuming.
The factory worked together with local tech companies to develop a custom drone mounted with several specialized cameras, including a heat sensing thermal imaging camera, close up lens, and wide angle lens. The drone can take high quality still images and videos. The drone makes it possible for a team of just two people to do what two dozen people used to do, in a fraction of the time. It reduced the amount of time it used to take to inspect a single gantry from 12 hours to just 12 minutes! The safety of the workers is also improved as they no longer have to scale over 150 feet to inspect a gantry. Another major advantage of the drone is that the plant doesn’t have to shut down operations, which allows for more frequent inspections, much faster, and at a fraction of the cost. An all around win/win situation for Ford.