Industry 4.0 – The Use of Drones in Industry
Drones are “hip”. This is the impression you get nowadays with them being used for spare time recreation, but also business and research purposes. The former sometimes creating massive problems for the public as being observed last year, when the London Gatwick Airport needed to be closed for 3 days because air traffic was endangered by a marauding drone. Nevertheless, drones are becoming more and more important as the market estimates by Roland Berger & Partner reveals. The global drone market was worth approximately 3.1 bil. € in 2017 and is expected to grow to 12.6 bil. € in 2022. This growth is not only fueled by private use, but also by increasing applications in industry and business. Their use is advantageous in industrial applications that are dangerous for human and involve distances not easy to bridge for humans.
Recently Amazon announced, that it will start parcel deliveries in the US to its customers using drones with a maximum payload of 2.3 kg. Thus, retail will be a growth area for drone application as parcel services like DHL have similar plans. Manufacturing industries will also be a major area for the use of drones mainly for the following purposes: asset inspection and maintenance, intracompany transportation of material and parts and inventory taking. The most prominent application will be the use for inspection and maintenance purposes, since a drone equipped with radar or laser scanners, IR- or stereoscopic cameras allows to easy detect anomalies or defects of industry equipment. It is especially suited for areas such as refineries, pipelines, mines or other large facilities, where human inspection is either dangerous or incomprehensive since not all areas can be reached. Therefore, drones help to avoid lengthy, risky and costly human inspections. Own experience shows that drone scans or inspections of facilities are up to 50% quicker and by far more accurate in detecting defects than inspectors operating handheld scanners. They also help to save insurance cost for the inspector by reducing the probability of injuries. In addition, more inspections can be executed and most of the assets need not be switched off during inspection allowing for a continuation of the production. The data collected by the drones can be processed for preventive maintenance purposes and a better management of the assets. The virtualization of assets in a plant will help to regularly track their state and will support a better planning of the production facility and flow. Comparisons between “now and then” can be easily made and the integration with the enterprise asset management will provide better data of the development of the assets over time.
Additional uses of drones in industry will be intra-company transportation i.e. the transportation of parts or material between adjacent plants of one firm. Inventory is another feasible field of application for drones that are equipped by barcode or RFID scanners enforcing the parts and transmitting the data to the inventory management system, thereby making manual inventory taking obsolete.
Nevertheless, there are also some obstacles to be faced when it comes to the use of drones. In many countries they need be operated by licensed personnel. Furthermore, the benefits of autonomous drone operation cannot be exploited since legislation is often lacking behind and still needs to define rules for such operations. Apart from legal issues also technical issues exist such as the often insufficient range of drones especially in outdoor use (e.g. in beyond -line-of-sight operations). As the market is still in a growth phase, these problems are very likely to be overcome. To the contrary, they will be carrying more and more sophisticated sensors, cameras and devices for data gathering and processing enlarging their field of operations.