Increasing employee safety and making the job more fun.
First, it was the cool EksoVest exoskeleton and now Ford has introduced drones to its Dagenham engine plant in the UK to make life a little easier for their workers. Equipped with cameras, employees can now carry out inspections of high-rise gantries, pipework and roof areas while firmly planted on the ground.
Before they implemented this simple yet effective method, teams had to make use of automated extendable platforms and scaffolding to carry out checks on the gantries that support the factories heavy machinery.
"We'd joked about having a robot do the work when there was a lightbulb moment – use drones instead," said Pat Manning, machining manager, Ford Dagenham Engine Plant. "We used to have to scale heights of up to 164-feet 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."
Before the drones did all the heavy lifting, each inspection used to take 12-hours to complete, now that time has been cut down to 12-minutes. This means more frequent checks can be done and the entire production facility can be checked in one day.
Aside from the safety and time benefits, a big plus point is that sections of the factory do not have to be shut to construct the scaffolding that was once a necessity to perform the checks. Ford's drones can also inspect pipework, locate air leaks and check other machinery.
Imagine this sort of technology back in the days of the Model T, even then Ford was at the forefront of advanced production techniques and thinking of worker safety. The next step is to deploy this technology to other regions and Ford is currently evaluating where to expand to next.