A Kilkeel business is using drones to keep its production line running.
Collins Aerospace, one of the world’s leading aircraft seats manufacturers, is transporting spare parts from its storage centre, which is located a couple of fields away, by drone because it would take too long to travel by road during peak traffic times.
The company’s new storage facility (the old Toughglass building) for parts is located almost two kilometres away from its main Moor Road facility.
The land route to the Harbour Road involves several junctions which the company says can be “congested at times with school-run parents”.
The firm’s design engineer David Stevenson said it was critically important spare parts could be quickly delivered to keep the production line operating as one seat is produced every seven minutes.
“It takes 90 seconds to drop a part, stopping the loss of £100 a minute – this was the right thing for us to do,” said Mr Stevenson.
He was speaking at a conference last week where applied drone technology was the hot topic.
Mr Stevenson said the next step would be to carry larger quantities.
“We maybe want to start getting our full parts by drone, or have multiple drones flown by a single operator.”
He disclosed plans for an autonomous system which delivered on request, and could be implemented across the multinational company.
The conference did, however, hear that drones have their limitations, and doubts have been expressed that they could become commercially viable for all deliveries.
Coping with bad weather and battery power are key challenges facing drone manufacturers.
Ian Kiely, chief executive of Drone Consultants Ireland, predicted that by 2025 passenger drones would be rolled out more widely, most likely run using a new raft of satellites.
The conference at the Innovation Factory in Belfast last week discussed the benefits of drone technology, from tracking the progress of forest fires to screening crops for moisture levels.
They can also be used to deliver life-saving equipment to people stranded at sea.