How to inspect a beer factory without shutting it down? Use a drone

How do you inspect the ceiling of a major beer factory without having to shut the entire operation down?

In honor of International Beer Day (yep, that’s today!), here’s another example of Drones for Good.

Czechoslovakian beer giant Pilsner Urquell is now using the collision-tolerant Elios drone, by Swiss dronemaker Flyability, to run inspections of its bottling factory in the Czech factory Pilsner Urquell Czech Flyability Elios
The Elios drone is designed to navigate difficult spaces. It has a rather unique frame — surrounded by a circular cage — allowing it to bounce off obstacles, rather than with more traditional drones where the propellers get caught and the drone crashes.

It’s generally performed by 5 workers who climb to the ceiling to perform a visual inspection. This requires scaffolding and a safety net to be constructed for the project. The process takes over a month.

Related read: Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi is helping drones fly without GPS

Related read: Which drones can fly indoors AND do heavy lifting?

Using the drone to inspect the 7-and-a-half-acre Pilsner Urquell bottling plant saves both time, money and potentially dangerous factory Pilsner Urquell Czech Flyability Elios

During inspection, the bottling production must be stopped in the area that is being inspected. While the company doesn’t release exact figures, reducing the production of 60,000 bottles of beer per hour for over 35 days is an expensive proposition.

The whole operation took just two pilots (one flying and one to assist with battery charging and observing) to get the data. While it still took 12 days with 4-5 hours of work on each day, the plant did not need to get shutdown. Pilsner Urquell estimates it saved over 3 weeks of inspection time.

And one more benefit? Drones can evaluate inaccessible areas better than with climbers, who can’t always move around the obstacles to get close enough to the beams safely to do a good visual inspection.

 Pilsner Urquell is now planning to expand the drone program to other locations as well.

Indoor drones come with some added challenges. While they’re typically exempt from aviation rules (in the U.S., the FAA only governs the airspace, meaning you could fly indoors and not adhere to FAA rules), they have their own challenges.

Flying in confined indoor spaces typically means you don’t have the benefit of GPS positioning –thus you can’t navigate as well. The industry is only just beginning to see technologies emerge to aid in indoor navigation including artificial intelligence, computer vision, LiDAR, mini RADAR, and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).

Airbus this year announced its own indoor inspection drone, this one designed specifically for use inside a hangar to inspect aircraft. Airbus’s drone is equipped with a laser-based sensor capable of detecting obstacles and halting the inspection if necessary, allowing the vehicle to fly automatically without the need for remote piloting.

And German-based drone company is parterning with tech company Avansig to power indoor surveillance drones for security company Prosegur.

One Comment

  • We were discussing this drone a few weeks ago at a chemical factory, where they wanted to use it to go down a water outlet pipe to check for damage, as a human requires all kinds of safety equipment and health and safety certificates, a lot of red tape, to go down there.

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