Ford plant inspection reaches new heights

Drones with mounted cameras make easy work of inspecting high equipment

Published: August 29, 2018, 9:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 2:59 PM

Ford inspector with drone

Many people are perturbed by the personal use of drones, mostly because they don’t seem to serve any useful personal purpose other than annoying others. However, Ford is putting them to good use in one of its UK facilities.

The company’s equipment inspectors have enlisted drones to quickly and easily carry out the dangerous, yet essential, checks of high-rise gantries, ceiling-mounted pipework and roof areas at the Ford’s Dagenham (East London) Engine Plant.

They’re performing 12-minute tasks that would otherwise require them to climb on scaffolding and extendable platforms for a 12-hour long inspection, not including the time they would need to erect the scaffolding (which would sometimes require shutting areas down for the safety of other workers. They can cover the entire plant in one shift.

“We’d joked about having a robot do the work when there was a lightbulb moment – use drones instead,” said Pat Manning, machining manager at the plant. “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.”

With the savings in time, the inspection team can perform inspections more frequently, allowing them to stay on top of potential problems developing before they get worse. The drones can also be used to detect air leaks and to check hard to reach areas of machinery.

The company is evaluating whether it can use the remote, high-flying technology for other tasks in other parts of its business.