Drones in Supply Chain

Introduction –

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 robots are the reason why new and higher productive technologies are surging.

Businesses around the world have started to integrate drones into their Supply Chain over the past years to help manage their inventory. The drones are built and designed to assist human workers indoors and benefit large organizations that have stationary inventory. Companies that deal with a large amount of inventory often find it challenging to find items inside the warehouse. Therefore, the areal inventory drones can benefit many big organizations to find the right items inside the warehouse and cut their inventory carrying costs. The drones carry sensors, scanners, and cameras to monitor and track inventory. The aim of integrating this drone is mainly a concern of accuracy as the drones should be more efficient and precise than humans. So far, the result of implementing drones into Supply Chains has been great and drones are becoming quite popular due to their capability of flying around, avoid obstacles, navigate indoors, and operate in fleets (Dronevideos.com, 2018).

Benefits

Several benefits can be identified while using indoor drones. First, the human workforce will potentially hold less hazardous tasks which means no ladder climbing or dangerous inspections anymore. There is a fast return on investment due to the manageable acquisition cost of hardware.

Secondly the reliable/stable software can enable fully autonomous indoor navigation and automatically scan barcodes. Despite these promising positives effects that drones bring to a warehouse, many negatives side effect still needs to be overcome.

Limitations

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’ failure such as battery explosions. The maintenance and reparation costs are also something to take into consideration resulting in some delays or downturns. Finally, analysts identify the automated drone’s system suffering from the “garbage in”, “garbage out” issues. When inventory gets lost, drones cannot prevent it, identify it, or resolve it. Despite all the benefits that inside drones can bring, few adjustments still need to be studied, analyzed, and fixed to fully enjoy and operate the drones inside automated Supply Chains.

Furthermore, the future might be worrying for workers as they feel targeted and soon stand the risk to be 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 are to manage/supervise these drones and receive more specific assignments that need critical thinking decisions. This will merely shift the work dynamic and prevent job loss.

A bright future

Nowadays automated Supply Chains are revolutionizing and reshaping the fulfilment process. The number of drones integrated inside warehouses to Supply Chain daily operations is booming. In general, technologies such as barcode labels, automated guided vehicles, automated storage and retrieval, automated mobile robots, are the close future for most of the Supply Chains around the world. Despite the many benefits such as time-savings, increased accuracy, error reduction, cost-saving, better productivity, efficiency, and more space is created, the human workforce is worried for their future as robots start to replace them.

Many disadvantages still need to be overcome, 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 autonomous, it is still important for workers to understand their protocols to not form Supply Chain bottlenecks along the way.

It is seen that the implementation of automated drones by big companies such as Amazon, DHL, or UPS is becoming increasingly popular. Smaller companies do not have the capital to invest yet in drone technology, but it is a matter of time before drones will be integrated in most of the Supply Chains worldwide, at least to dome degree. SME’s (Small/Medium Enterprises) also outsource frequently to still enjoy the benefits that drones bring to their respective Supply Chain.

Fulfilment is being impacted as many time-consuming tasks are replaced by high-tech drones which can reduce the time needed to transport, manage, or place items inside the warehouse. Also, automated drones can work 24 hours, seven days out of seven. This enables consumers to receive their goods in a short period though shortening of lead times which increases customer satisfaction.

From the beginning of the robotization era in 1960 to the automated Supply Chains in 2020, a huge boom in technology has happened and drones are showing strong potential in performance which impacts the fulfilment process as they become more innovative over time.

The future for drones is bright. The indoor drones which are being analyzed and studied for full implementation will be another important step for automated Supply Chains as they will be able to bring many positives effects such as a fast return on investment, however, adjustments still need to be made to be for them to be fully operational.

Despite the necessary adjustments, the rapid growth and advancements in innovative drone technology illustrate a bright future. Would you like to know more about automated Drones, and how to integrate this within your Supply Chain? Contact one of ModusLink’s Industry experts by clicking here!

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