Emerging Technology: Drones

Drones emit a characteristic annoying buzzing sound. Many people, however, are willing to endure the buzzing because of the cool things one can do with a drone. As drones become less and less expensive, the majority of the logistics industry will adopt this emerging technology.

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:

  1. Tracking inventory;
  2. Internal delivery; and
  3. Transportation

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]:

Advantage Disadvantage
Fixed-Wing Long range

Endurance

Horizontal take-off
Inferior maneuverability
Tilt-Wing Combination of fixed-wing and vertical take-off landing advantages Technologically complex

Expensive

Unmanned Helicopter VTOL

Maneuverability
High payload possible

Expensive
Comparably high maintenance requirements
Multicopter Inexpensive

Easy to launch
Low weight

Limited payloads

Susceptible to wind due to low weight

Tracking inventory

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.

Internal delivery

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.

Transportation Uses

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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