DAGENHAM, England—Ford Motor Co. is using drones at its engine plant here to inspect hidden corners of the sprawling facility. Devices equipped with cameras enable engineers to safely and efficiently inspect things such as gantry cranes, pipework and roof areas.

Previously, they carried out this important maintenance work by using automated extendable platforms and scaffolding to check 131-foot long gantries that support the plant’s heavy machinery. Each inspection could take up to 12 hours to complete.

“Now, with feet firmly on the ground and controlling drones equipped with GoPro cameras, maintenance staff can thoroughly inspect each area in just 12 minutes,” says Pat Manning, machining manager. “The whole production facility can be covered in a day, zoning in on hard-to-reach areas to ensure they are well-maintained and comply to rigorous safety standards.

“We’d joked about having a robot do the work when there was a lightbulb moment—use drones instead,” explains Manning. “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 without the risk of team members having to work at dangerous heights.”

“With the time saved, employees can carry out more frequent inspections without having to shut facilities to construct the scaffolding that was once necessary,” Manning points out.

Ford’s drones are also used to inspect pipework, locate air leaks and check machinery. The company is now evaluating the possibility of using the technology at other plants around the world.