Drones and Supply Chain: How they May Impact the Process

Drones may be one of the hottest, and for some hated, holiday toys for the year. Yet it has also become a sought-after solution for many retailers who are looking at these unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as a viable tool to help with their supply chains. When the e-retailer Amazon talked about using drones for delivery of products, many people scoffed and joked about it. Yet tons of businesses are now jumping on the bandwagon as they are seeking to introduce their own versions of drones inside warehouses and fleet yards to help with inventory management and picking processes.

The Drone Revolution: How Companies See the Benefits of Supply Chain UAS

For now, there several areas of your company that may find the benefits of using commercial drones in the supply chain process. By considering the capabilities of drones, you may find that these tools can speed up operations and decrease delivery times for the end user while cutting down on your supply chain costs.

Asset Management

Manually monitoring inventory can require workers to spend extraordinary amounts of time and resources to count products on shelves. Keeping track and monitoring inventory levels can be an exhaustive process when done periodically, especially during high order demand periods such as the holidays. The use of drones to scan and check inventory anywhere in the warehouse using OCR, RFID, and barcode readers can offer better inventory management, especially when the drone can move from warehouse to warehouse on the property in moments and deliver this information instantaneously to integrated warehouse management software.

Speeding up Deliveries Between Commercial Buildings

While retailers have tried to sell the notion of drones performing home deliveries when offering same-day services, your company may benefit from product delivery inside the supply chain. Raw materials can be moved from warehouse to manufacturing floor with the use of drones. Drones can also move finished products from warehouse shelves to store shelves, or place products on pallets for shipping to end users and retailers.

Monitoring Supply Chain Delivery Routes

It’s true that the main use you may see with these drones is to enhance supply chain capabilities by offering delivery services for products. Yet additional capabilities involve monitoring supply chain routes for disruptions that could impact truck deliveries. These drones can monitor road conditions, construction slow-downs and other hazards while reporting the information to logistics managers who can quickly select alternative shipping routes.

Hurdles Still Present with Commercial Drones

Commercial drones are still waiting for the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be permitted to fly around delivering products or even simply taking inventory of product pallets in shipping yards. Yet the FAA is streamlining the registration application process to allow these drones to operate in commercial settings. Companies may currently seek section 333 exemptions from the FAA. Yet you must designate fly areas to ensure that the drones won’t endanger the public or aircraft in the area. The drones must also fly no higher than a stated 200 feet, must weigh less than 55 kilograms, and only fly during the daylight hours. Any company breaking such rules can face stiff fines and penalties.

No longer does it seem like drones are just a part of science fiction movies. With major retailers and commercial companies seeing a positive investment in UAS, it only becomes a matter of time before these commercial drones are taking to the skies. Supply chain managers will have to keep a close eye on those companies who are early adopters of this technology to determine what benefits and issues these flying unmanned machines will create.