Coming to a supply chain near you!

supply chain drone

As we all know drones have become commonplace in everyday life. I recall seeing my first drone in person on a recent trip to St. Kitts. The couple I was visiting used their drone to take exquisite pictures of the islands all while standing on the beach. I was shocked at the capabilities these ‘robots in the sky’ had! The first thought that came to mind was, if they could fly around and take overhead pictures what else could these things do?

After some research, I found out that drones are being used for everything from warfare to filming! Drones have become more mainstay in the business sense as you start to notice the mention of drones everywhere. Supply chain for example, has seen the benefits of drones in many ways. Let’s discuss how UPS makes use of drones in conjunction with their delivery trucks. Still in its test phases, drones are being launched from the delivery truck with items to deliver to a customer. The drone makes the customer delivery and then flies back to the original delivery truck it was launched from, all the while the truck is simultaneously making deliveries. What a way to get things done faster and more efficiently! UPS is going a step even further by considering using drones to deliver packages to rural areas where a truck may only make one trip out to the middle of nowhere just to deliver that ONE package. Thus, drones serve as effective ways of not only saving the company on fuel costs but also by helping them optimize the network in which UPS travels in. To my astonishment, historically rural delivery routes have been one of the most expensive routes for UPS to serve due to all the components necessary to make the delivery. Overall, drones are making deliveries more efficient, they are reducing the miles that a driver must drive, and they are decreasing vehicle emissions all of which sounds like a win win for the business and the consumer.

Furthermore, companies are using drones to check inventory on high shelves in warehouses. Who would have thought it! It seems to be a pretty good use of a drone to me. As a supply chain professional that has worked in my share of large DC’s, drones certainly would be a more resourceful way of taking inventory high up versus sending an employee out on a reach truck to do the same. Drones could also be used in more activities within the warehouse such as picking full cases for store orders. My imagination immediately drifts to the thought of drones being able to pull full cases for orders. Once the counting capabilities become more refined, drones could even do cycle counts in a warehouse. With drones taking over counts, the number of employees that would have had to do them would be minimized and the potential for more frequent counts would increase. What if drones could work customer orders alongside employees? Imagine the number of orders that could be completed in a day and how quickly orders could be sent out to customers without the long wait times.

Lastly, lets talk Amazon, the mammoth of a company who has come up with the brilliant idea of having a fulfillment center in the sky. Yep that’s right, think Goodyear blimp flying to a city near you with all the stuff you just ordered on Amazon Prime. Amazon is looking to send a giant airship 45,000 feet in the air that would then deploy individual drones to deliver Amazon bought goods. I immediately wondered how employees would be placed up there to pick orders and how would the drones get back to the mothership after making a delivery. According to Amazon, there would be smaller air crafts that would take employees and drones back to the big aircraft to replenish delivery inventory and take employees up to work their shift. In this instance, drones would have more capabilities to have wider delivery ranges all while consuming less power upon descent while delivering packages. Not bad if you ask me.

Drones are definitely the wave of the future. To think that they started out as these highly complex pieces of equipment that were only used by high tech companies and agencies to now being used in every aspect of people’s lives. The world of supply chain will never be the same with the introduction of drones into our space.