Drones in Supply Chain

Introduction –

Of all the systems involved in shipping and transportation services today, automated processes for delivery and logistics remain among the most critical. Looking at the future of shipping service providers as well as the future of drones is a fascinating aspect of the modern supply chain network. It all comes down to digitalization and automation

The evidence of the increasing popularity of supply chain automation is pushing companies to research even more performant alternatives that will keep boosting the efficiency of robots inside supply chains. The many benefits that come with omnichannel logistics and automation are the reason why new and higher productive technologies are surging among high-tech drone companies.

According to the experts at Supply Chain Digital, “The potential for drones as powerful business tools is huge. For supply chains, drones can be used in warehouses to increase the accuracy and efficiency of inventory management through to last-mile delivery.” Big companies around the world have started to integrate drones into their supply chain over the past years to help manage their inventory. 

The drones are designed to assist human workers indoors and benefit large organizations with stationary stock. Companies that deal with a large amount of inventory often find omnichannel logistics challenging when it comes to locating items inside the warehouse.

Therefore, aerial inventory drones can benefit many prominent organizations in finding the right items inside the warehouse and cutting their inventory carrying costs. The drones have sensors, scanners, and cameras to monitor and track inventory visibility and availability. 

The aim of integrating this automated drone technology with delivery and logistics is mainly a concern with accuracy as drones should be more efficient and precise than humans. Additionally, camera drones can verify e-commerce deliveries and other milestones in real time without waiting for human intervention.

So far, implementing drones into supply chains has been great, and drones are becoming quite popular. This is largely due to their capability of flying around, avoiding obstacles, navigating indoors, and operate in fleets with direct distribution (Dronevideos.com, 2018). The collection of aerial data and navigational insight also helps boost the popularity of drones today. 

Benefits of Drones- Delivery and Logistics

Several benefits can be identified while using indoor drones. First, the human workforce will potentially hold fewer hazardous tasks, and no ladder climbing or dangerous inspections anymore. There is a fast return on investment due to the manageable acquisition cost of hardware associated with this type of omnichannel logistics.

Secondly, the reliable/stable software can enable fully autonomous indoor navigation and automatically scan barcodes. Despite these promising positive effects that drones bring to a warehouse, many negative side effects regarding e-commerce solutions must be overcome. These include issues, such as inventory service costs and warehouse space management concerns, and more..

Limitations of Drones for Logistics

The limited flying area and the many obstacles inside the warehouse make the process complex. Furthermore, integrating the drones into the existing process makes it time-consuming and sometimes unsafe due to potential drones failures such as battery explosions. The maintenance and reparation costs also take into consideration resulting in some delays or downturns. 

Analysis of direct distribution with drones has also shown that automated systems often suffer from the “garbage in,” and “garbage out” issues. When inventory gets lost, drones cannot prevent it, identify it, or resolve it. Despite all the benefits that drones can bring, a few adjustments still need to be studied, analyzed, and fixed to enjoy and operate the drones inside omnichannel logistics and automated supply chains fully.

Furthermore, the future might worry workers as they feel targeted and soon stand the risk of being replaced by more efficient and accurate drones (Maghazei, 2019). On the contrary, drones could also be an opportunity for workers to be trained and taught about new systems. They must know how to manage/supervise these drones and receive more specific assignments related to delivery and logistics. This will merely shift the work dynamic and prevent job loss and turnover within the global supply chain.

Limitations of Drones for Logistics

What the Future Holds for Omnichannel Logistics With Drones

Nowadays, automated supply chains are revolutionizing and reshaping the fulfillment process. The number of drones integrated inside warehouses into daily operations is booming. In general, technologies such as barcode labels, automated guided vehicles, automated storage and retrieval, and automated mobile robots are the near future for most global supply networks. These can aid in both forward and reverse logistics and keep the supply chain operating efficiently.

Despite the many benefits such as time-savings, increased accuracy, error reduction, cost-saving, better productivity, efficiency, and more space created, the human workforce is worried about their future as robots start to replace them.

Many disadvantages still need to be overcome regarding omnichannel logistics; even if the availability of affordable drones is increasing, the initial investment remains high, at least for most companies. Not to mention the regular maintenance check cost, repairs, and the training of the workers who do not especially know how to use specific drones. 

Even though drones can operate autonomously within direct distribution tasks, it is still essential for workers to understand delivery and logistics protocols to not form supply chain bottlenecks along the way.

A massive boom in technology has happened, and drones are showing strong potential in performance capabilities. This makes it easier for service providers to meet customer expectations while better managing opportunity costs and profits.

The indoor drones which are being analyzed and studied for full implementation will be another essential step for automated supply chains as they will be able to bring many positive effects, such as a fast return on investment. However, innovation is still essential as changes will need to be made for them to be fully operational.

Improve Delivery and Logistics With Help From ModusLink

Despite the necessary adjustments, the rapid growth and advancements in innovative drone technology illustrate a bright future. Would you like to know more about omnichannel logistics, drones, and how to integrate modern tech within your supply chain? Contact one of ModusLink’s Industry experts today to get started with improved delivery and logistics!

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