Drones in the Supply Chain
- Published: 09 Jun 2017
Drones could be used for a variety of things, but some of the major uses in the supply chain for which a drone could be used include:
- Tracking inventory;
- Internal delivery; and
Types of Drones
Before delving into the potential uses of drones in the logistics industry, here is a table detailing the pros and cons of the major types of drones[i]:
|Fixed-Wing||Long range Endurance||Horizontal take-offInferior maneuverability|
|Tilt-Wing||Combination of fixed-wing and vertical take-off landing advantages||Technologically complex Expensive|
|Unmanned Helicopter||VTOL ManeuverabilityHigh payload possible||ExpensiveComparably high maintenance requirements|
|Multicopter||InexpensiveEasy to launchLow weight||Limited payloadsSusceptible to wind due to low weight|
Within the warehouse, drones could be used for taking inventory. Warehouses are generally racked fairly high. In order to properly conduct a count, a pallet would need to be taken down and manually counted by a human. With a drone, however, counting could be made significantly faster by having the drone fly up and around a racked pallet and, with the right software, count the pallet itself by scanning a barcode. If the software isn’t at the level for autonomous drones, one worker could control the drone and count that way. Great measures, however, must be taken to ensure that counts are accurate, as the physical element is taken out of the equation.
The larger the warehouse, the more useful a drone is regarding internal delivery. Internal delivery means bringing an item from one place within a warehouse to another. Sorting/loading onto pallets from a rack is also a job in which a drone could considerably increase productivity. A drone could also help with loading outbound trucks, especially if the capabilities of drones increase in the coming decades, as it surely will.
Drones will not have as a great of an impact when it comes to freight transportation: there is too much and the weights are too high for a drone to reasonably and safely usurp freight trucks as the kings of transporting large hauls. If drones were to take on this role in the supply chain, drones will have to greatly advance.
One potential use for drones regarding the transportation side of the logistics industry is vehicle inspection. If a company owns a vast fleet of trucks, regular checks are necessary. Preliminary checks of trucks could be made with a manned or unmanned drone.
Like many of the emerging technology previous featured, there are not many applications for the freight portion of the supply chain. Drones are more suited for residential deliveries rather than freight load deliveries.
Sources[i]"UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES IN LOGISTICS." DHL Trend Report UAV. http://www.dhl.com/content/dam/downloads/g0/about_us/logistics_insights/dhl_trend_report_uav.pdf. Page 6.
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