Some ideas about futuristic technology sound too wild to be plausible, but drones might hit the sweet spot between science fiction and reality. These small flying robots could have several vital roles to play in the supply chain, and they appear to already be inserting themselves into the industry.
The most obvious use for drone technology from the consumer point of view is the last mile of the delivery chain. This part of the process can be the most difficult and costly for shippers, but drones can increase speed, reduce gas costs, and avoid complications like traffic or delivery vehicle breakdowns.
Because each drone only handles one item, any problem it may encounter will not extend to other packages, as is the case in bulk delivery vehicles. Various companies and initiatives have taken note of the benefits of drones for last-mile delivery, and have already started using them to deliver food, consumer products, and even medicine.
Moving Up the Supply Chain
Apart from the direct delivery of goods to consumers, drones can also serve other logistical purposes. For example:
Sorting and delivering goods within warehouses
Counting inventory (especially on high shelves)
Tracking goods on the move
Inspecting freight procedures in areas, such as ocean cargo ships
Conducting other surveillance, such as health and safety inspections of work environments including cargo ships, railways, and bridges
Drones make excellent workers for these tasks because they have unique properties that make them resilient, adaptable, and fast compared to their human counterparts in certain scenarios. Benefits of delivery drones include:
Faster, more direct, and individualized delivery
Faster warehouse tasks, such as inventory counting using scannable barcodes.
Environmental benefits due to being purely electric and consuming less energy per delivery.
More accurate, by eliminating human error in repetitive tasks.
Cheaper due to improved speed and reduced errors
Safer due to taking over dangerous jobs thus reducing workplace injuries to humans.
Changes to Retail and Operations
If drones are really to become an integral part of logistics, how will they change the supply chain and logistics as we know them? For one, brick-and-mortar stores will face a new threat on top of the competition they already have from e-commerce. These stores as well as their e-commerce competitors will face pressure to adapt and stay afloat in a cut-throat market of advancing technology, not to mention soaring consumer expectations.
On the operations side, warehouses and distribution centers are likely to change dramatically to conform to the optimal needs of drones. In doing so, efficiency should increase, and business will likely boom. However, these benefits will also come with a wave of efforts to create drone-related regulations, helping to combat potential drone theft, damage, and cybercrime issues. Overall, the path to skies buzzing with drones may have some bumps along the way, but there is significant potential for the little robots to transform the supply chain for the better.
While drones might be the future for the last mile delivery process, bulk shipping either by ocean or air freight will remain an integral part of international trade. Whether it be through technology or a personal touch, ClearFreight is poised to support your supply chain every step of the way. For more information on how we can help to enhance your supply chain, contact us today.