The global drone market’s worth is expected to be around $15 billion by 2022, despite that the manufacturing industry accounts for less than two per cent of drone deployments. This comes as a shock, given that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have a wide range of industrial applications, from infrastructure inspections to surveillance. Similarly, drones can have a variety of applications in manufacturing as well.
Drones aren’t just some fancy flying camera technology, their level of sophistication enables them to obtain and record information where humans cannot be it in a difficult-to-access area, or a warzone.
Although supply chain issues and global chip shortages have stunted the introduction of drones to manufacturers, simultaneously being challenged by a lack of consistent and clear regulation, this gap is being bridged, with new guidelines on leisure and commercial drone operation to regulate the manufacturing and operation of drones by taking a risk-based approach. The categories are low, medium, and high. The EU has been a pioneer in introducing similar policies. To allow bigger drones and their applications in commercial and industrial backgrounds, to be used more consistently in manufacturing, the ban on beyond visual line of sight operations has also been lifted for drones that weigh above 5 kgs.
Usually, discussions on UAVs focus more on transportation uses, there are other beneficial applications, such as delivering advanced asset monitoring. UAVs can improve the implementation of asset monitoring by using Infrared (IR) and thermal imaging technology to get precise temperature data on machinery and production lines. For example, with the advancement in IoT technology, if temperatures were too high, drones can alert operators in time to handle the problem before equipment failure.
The application of UAVs in manufacturing has the potential to save time on inventory checks. Drones can perform the necessary checks with higher accuracy, which is usually a long-winded manual task that workers conduct by scanning RFID tags and barcodes. Using drones with accurate sensors would allow manufacturers to free up valuable time and labour to better focus resources and attention on production instead.
UAVs can also be applied in boosting compliance by recording temperature, production line observations and issues from the camera images. Which also includes improvement in health and safety adherence. A maintenance inspection often requires production to stop due to safety concerns. However, production can continue with staff safely if a drone is used to inspect the machinery.
Inter-departmental transportation of parts between different areas of a plant or warehouse can be taxing. Drones can transport parts and fly into warehouses to fetch and deliver. Using drones to transport spares, even for a small distance such as from one production line to another, saves valuable time.
Drones are programmable, they can fly over buildings, removing obstacles that slow delivery drivers down. These obstructions can be recorded in real-time, and efficient routes can be programmed and modified.
There are some issues that need to be addressed before we see the widespread adoption of drones, such as battery backup and enhanced payload capabilities. Despite the current technology, drones are practical tools for monitoring, something that more manufacturers should consider.