Manufacturing line optimization is a continuous process rather than a one-time thing. In order to implement continuous improvement, manufacturing businesses must explore new ways to optimize their production lines. There are some interesting new developments indeed, especially with information technology and new tools like automation opening up new possibilities in manufacture.

The most recent advancement is the use of drones in manufacturing. Applications involving drones – as part of a bigger strategy for improvement – are becoming more common and more aligned with today’s needs. How does the future of drones in manufacturing look? Let’s find out, shall we?

Drones in Raw Material Discovery

Drones are already being used in some parts of the manufacturing process, but we have to start from the beginning of most manufacturing cycles to really understand how useful drones can be for manufacturing companies. Companies focusing on finding and processing raw materials are already using drones as tools for exploration.

New sources of raw material, mainly sources that weren’t accessible or discoverable before, can now be accessed using drones, all without exposing operators and engineers to more risks. The use of drones also allows for the exploration and discovery processes to be automated and improved to a certain degree.

Raw material discovery using drones also leads to better cost-efficiency. Rather than relying on manual work, businesses can use drones to shorten the raw material discover cycle. As a result, a lot of time (and, again, money) can be saved, resulting in a leaner manufacturing process.

Drones in Logistics

Everything from moving raw materials to different buildings in a manufacturing complex to moving items to certain parts of a manufacturing line can be done using drones. Drones are becoming more powerful and capable of handling a bigger workload, which means drones can now be used to handle more logistical tasks.

The use of drones inside the manufacturing facility is also not uncommon. Thanks to new technologies like object detection, drones can navigate the factory floors safely and with minimal human input. It will not be long before drones are used as an integral part of the manufacturing process.

Similar to using drones for raw material discovery, there are also immediate benefits of using drones in logistics. Workflows can be optimized to work well with the smaller capacity of today’s top drones, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Smaller units mean more meticulous control over logistics and other processes, which leads to more opportunities to optimize.

Drones in Monitoring

Monitoring is another important part of the manufacturing process that can be offloaded to drones. Rather than assigning employees to walk around the manufacturing line and inspecting workflows, manufacturing companies can now use drones for the same purpose. Live feeds sent to a command center allows for human monitoring, but that’s not the impressive part here.

Drones can actually be used alongside other technologies such as RFID and barcodes. The integration allows for more parts of the monitoring process to be automated. When drones are capable of tracking materials based on unique RFID signatures, for instance, those drones can stream insightful data about the whole manufacturing process in an autonomous way.

There is also the fact that drones are mobile, which means they are compatible with even the most challenging manufacturing environment. Imagine smaller drones keeping track of the flow of materials and job orders to make sure that maximum efficiency and optimum takt time can be achieved and maintained.

Drones for Safety

Safety is a big part of the manufacturing process too. A mature manufacturing process always places safety as a priority. Since drones can be used to replace human operators in dangerous environments, that concern for safety can be eliminated completely.

Instead of asking operators to inspect pipes or do an assessment on heavy machinery, manufacturing businesses can use drones instead. This type of application is already a part of the future of manufacturing, mainly because top universities such as Kettering University are adding topics like automation and technology into their curriculum.

If you are taking a lean manufacturing program and pursuing a higher degree in this field, the use of technology to improve safety – including drones and other tools – will be something you learn along the way. Once you have the basics, you can implement the same approach in the field.

Drones for the Future

We haven’t even gotten to the exciting part yet. The technologies surrounding the use of drones in manufacturing are also improving rapidly, and some of them are making new implementations of drones possible. The combination of drones and vision artificial intelligence (AI), for instance, can help factories monitor the use of basic safety equipment such as gloves and helmets around the factory floors.

The same visual AI-based processing also allows for easier detection of unauthorized individuals. This means factory floors can be made more segmented and a more granular access control policy can be established. Drones will patrol the factory floor and make sure that there is no unauthorized access for better safety.

There is also the implementation of facial recognition, material recognition, machinery recognition, and vehicle recognition, all based on vision AI. These technologies are available today and ready for advanced deployment scenarios, which means you can start using drones around the manufacturing facilities and enjoy their benefits.

Before you do, however, there are some important points you need to know as well. For starters, the right drone for the job isn’t always the same for every manufacturing environment, since different factories have different challenges.

You also have to think about how much drones can boost your manufacturing efficiency before jumping to implementation. Focus on weighing the benefits compared to costs (including the time needed to implement drones).

Last but certainly not least, integrating drones into your manufacturing workflow is something that requires sufficient planning. You can significantly increase the benefits of introducing drones to the manufacturing environment when you have clear objectives in mind.

So, are drones the future of manufacturing? Based on the trends taking shape on the market today, the answer to that question is a definite YES.