Drone Deliveries: The Way Future Products Will Be Shipped?

The electronics supply chain has been mastering the art of just-in-time (JIT) delivery for years now. Before it used to take a week or so to get products from your suppliers or distributors' warehouses to the factory floor. Then it was a couple days. And, now the norm has dropped to few hours thanks to vendor-managed inventory programs and campus hubs that keep suppliers and OEM operations in close vicinity to each other.

Let's look ahead to what the future could bring next. Imagine what your JIT manufacturing strategy could look like if, say, drones were able to deliver parts from your suppliers' warehouse straight to your factory line, bypassing the four-hour time gap and all the associate traffic on local roads? What if deliveries could be made in less than 30 minutes?

The possibility may not be too far off. And, if it comes to fruition inbound and outbound logistics, supply chain and manufacturing strategies will have to evolve as well.

Several top-tier companies are exploring delivery-by-drone opportunities, and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering safety and regulation issues associated with drone use. 

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

In November, for example, Amazon unveiled its futuristic plan to deliver packages, via drone, to your doorstep in 30 minutes. Here's what CEO Jeff  Bezos told Charlie Rose and 60 Minutes.

Back in the summer, Google's Project Wing project caught attention. The Atlantic reported in August that Google's drone delivery program has been running for two years at its long-range reaserach lab Google X and parallels the company's other robotics iniatives. Google's idea: Deliver products across a city in a few minutes, according to the report.

And, DHL has its fingers in the test pot, too. The company announced in September its plans to launch a pilot project on the North Sea island of Juist. For starters, the company will focus on getting medications and other urgently needed goods by its branded DHL parcelcopter drone, making it the first autonomous delivery flights by parcelcopter authorized in Europe.

It's worth noting, too, who's experimenting with this. Logistics provider DHL seems like an obvious user and beneficiary of furthering the technology and cutting delivery times. Online retailer Amazon has a lot at stake, too. But, Google? It makes you wonder what the search giant's play will be, and how it could shake up the current status quo.

How viable these projects will be over the long-term? How they will be regulated? How soon they could find their way into the electronics supply chain? Those questions, and many more, are still up for discussion. But, the imagination runs wild with potential, doesn't it?

So tell me, is this just a science fiction notion or is your supply chain team already looking into airlifting a drone delivery project and hiring a drone pilot?

1 comment on “Drone Deliveries: The Way Future Products Will Be Shipped?

  1. puga2006
    January 14, 2015

    I think there are opportunities to use drones in warehouses, one area where I could see them applied rightaway is counting pallet locations, either through barcode scanning or taking pictures and then converting those pictures into inventory counts (physical count or cycle count). This will work as long as there is no need to move the boxes or product that needs to be counted. Another opportunity is to move boxes from one area to another area, today warehouses use some form of conveyors with rollers on them, either smart or dumb, switching to using drones will provide the ability to reconfigure the starting point and ending point. Obviously these drones will have to lift a box of weight at least 20 lbs. and these drones will have to recognize moving obstacles such as fork lifts, reach trucks, order pickers, etc.

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