Drones speed up and reduce costs associated with traditional supply chains, deliver an additional source of data gathering and provide added convenience because they are not restricted to postcodes. From a technology perspective, the capabilities of drones are improving day by day – advancements in autonomous piloting, “sense and aware” technologies and increased battery life all mean that delivery drones have real future potential.
As drones prove to be the next big disruptive technology within the supply chain, businesses should start investigating strategies now to see if they would fit their business model. It is paramount to understand the technological challenges, practicalities and limitations of using drones as part of supply chain processes before dismissing them altogether or, conversely, going all in too quickly.
It has become a sought-after solution for many companies who are looking at these unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as a viable tool to help with their supply chains. Tons of businesses are now jumping on the bandwagon as they seek to introduce their own versions of drones inside warehouses, manufacturing units and fleet yards to help with inventory management and picking processes. By considering the capabilities of drones, companies are realizing that these automation tools can speed up operations and decrease delivery times for the end user while cutting down on supply chain costs.
The Benefits of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or ‘Drones’ in the Supply Chain:
Using drones to scan and check inventory anywhere in the warehouse using OCR, RFID, and barcode readers can offer better inventory management. This is especially true when the drone can move from warehouse to warehouse on the property in moments and deliver this information instantaneously to integrated warehouse management software.
Speeding Up Deliveries Between Commercial Buildings
While retailers have tried to sell the notion of drones performing home deliveries when offering same-day services, larger audiences may benefit from product delivery inside the supply chain. Drones can move raw materials from warehouse to manufacturing floor. They can also move finished products from warehouse shelves to store shelves, or place products on pallets for shipping to end users and retailers.
Monitoring Supply Chain Delivery Routes
Additional capabilities of drones involve monitoring supply chain routes for disruptions that could impact truck deliveries. These drones can monitor road conditions, construction slow-downs and other hazards while reporting the information back to logistics managers who can quickly select alternative shipping routes.
Hurdles Still Present with Commercial Drones
Commercial drones are still waiting for the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deliver products or even simply take inventory of product pallets in shipping yards. However, the FAA is currently streamlining the registration application process to allow drones to operate in commercial settings. Companies may seek Section 333 exemptions from the FAA. Lack of privacy, cybersecurity and air traffic control are among other concerns for drone usage. Delivery costs may be another issue for consumers.
No longer does it seem like drones are just a part of science fiction movies. It only becomes a matter of time before these commercial drones are taking to the skies. The real promise of drones is in enterprise applications with the emergence of "drones as a service," currently being assessed by a new generation of companies using drones and big data analytics to automate many services.
Drones appear to be a new element of the supply chain evolution, which includes warehouse robotics and automation, driverless delivery trucks, and other technologies and systems that increase efficiency and shorten the supply chain. The bottom line is that drones are going to be essential enablers transforming the supply chain landscape.