How Drone Technology is Going to Shape the Future of Supply Chain
What’s the Big Deal?
Drones are classified as “a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) which typically refers to a pilotless aircraft that operates through a combination of technologies, including computer vision, artificial intelligence, object avoidance tech, and others.” Their flexibility to perform virtually any report or inspection and easily collect and share data has allowed them to gain recognition as a much more valuable asset than many realized upon their entrance into the technology world. While they are most commonly recognized through their involvement with the military and recreational use, drones are working their way into a multitude of industries worldwide, including the supply chain.
Where are Drones Now?
Despite an initially negative connotation, drones have evolved and proved their worth through the benefits they provide to both personal and professional life. Drones have the ability to sharply capture significant moments in history such as life-altering political addresses and sports games that keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last second. NASA depends on them to collect footage of potentially dangerous areas in the universe and Amazon has started to use them to speed up the delivery process of small packages in certain regions.
How are They Evolving?
Drones are sold in a variety of shapes and sizes and offer an array of features such as cameras, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), navigation systems, sensors, and more. Models sold commercially are typically smaller in size and lightweight, allowing them to be launched out of hand and controlled via remote. As a result of their relatively simplistic goals, commercial drones are limited in battery life and how far they can travel. Advanced models that are used in the military or for mapping can fly for longer and be controlled from much further away.
What Does This Mean for the Supply Chain?
The continued progress in the development and use of drones has led to their successful implementation into supply chain operations from the warehouse to the road. Drones are collaborating with humans as well as operating in place of an individual. They are performing tasks such as delivering products from place-to-place in the warehouse, distribution center, or yard and transporting goods from densely packed storage areas to the proper station for the next step. Drones are being used to increase speed and efficiency and combat the 40% turnover rate warehouse operations are facing.
Drones are also increasingly being used in final-mile operations. Amazon has stated that they are working on a program where they use small drones capable of carrying up to five pounds’ worth of cargo to deliver products to end customers in as few as 30 minutes. Drone operations outside of contained locations (like warehouses) are more experimental at this time and come with governmental restrictions and worries about safety, so drone programs aren’t widely being employed at this time. With mega-companies such as Amazon working on drone delivery systems, however, it’s expected that drone technology will become common sights all across America in the next few years. This will drastically change the face of supply chain and add to already increasing customer expectations around the speed of delivery.
What Can We Do?
For the stability of the supply chain, utilizing the latest in technology is now more important than ever. Consumers want their products to reach them quickly and without error. Having an organized and efficient system is an essential part of preventing customers from turning to a competitor. If drones continue to flourish within the supply chain and more companies start to integrate them into their operations, those who ignore the trend will face the consequences. Every company should actively make an effort to remain one step ahead of the competition in all things technology so that they can be prepared for future tech like drones when they finally become mainstream parts of the supply chain.