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The first thing that comes to mind when you hear “drones” and “supply chain” together is Amazon, which is using drones to deliver goods. The reason this comes to mind is that it doesn’t exist on paper, but is something that the world is actually getting to experience.

Reshaping Supply Chain Operations

Similarly, drones for supply chain operations are increasingly becoming commonplace. So much that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been exploring ways to issue waivers and permissions for the usage of commercial drones in logistics. eCommerce has a major role to play in the increased drone adoption since supply chains need to be prepared for the ever-increasing consumer demand.

Drones have the advantage of being compact, quick, cheap, and reliable. It is rare to find these traits in single hardware technology. This means that one device can contribute towards an array of use-cases such as surveying, inspection, emergency response, security, inventory management, etc.

Below we take a look at how drones are reshaping supply chain operations –

Sustainable Operations:

The global small parcel volumes are expected to more than double from 103 billion parcels in 2019 to between 220 and 262 billion parcels by 2026, according to Pitney Bowes.

This means increased requirements for trucks to fulfill these demands. Unsurprisingly, the last-mile deliveries are seeing tremendous growth due to eCommerce. Since these deliveries are mostly in densely populated urban areas, large trucks are used to ship these parcels, thus causing high carbon emissions.

Electric drones are more efficient and environmentally friendly as compared to trucks and vans, according to New York Times. As the battery life of drones keeps on improving, they could prove to be increasingly environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional means of transport.

Drones are part of Amazon’s mission to make their shipments net-zero carbon.

Security and Surveillance:

Inventory, especially the highly-valued ones, stand enormous of being subjected to thefts.

It is imperative for supply chains to keep their real estate and assets secure. The loss due to security breaches can range in millions of dollars. Thefts can occur inside warehouses or even in ports/docks. Thankfully, drones can be used in both the examples, as well as beyond that.

Drones can be flown around the perimeter of the port, yard, warehouse, ships, etc. to check any unwanted movement of people or goods. This can also help address other aspects of safety, such as monitoring the condition of the ships in case urgent repair work is required.

Inside warehouses, autonomous inventory drones can carry out inventory scans when the warehouse is empty during the night or during the weekends. This ensures zero warehouse theft as well as an effective manner of conducting these scans.

Smart Inventory Management:

Any sort of chaos or confusion inside a warehouse spells bad news for supply chains since warehouses stand at a critical juncture between the inventory source and the consumers. Whether it is inaccurate and slow inventory scans, or it is operations coming at a halt due to COVID lockdowns, any type of disruption can have a snowball effect on the overall bottom lines and customer satisfaction.

Autonomous inventory drones are solving this problem by helping warehouse operators to schedule the inventory scans at their convenience. Not only does this prove to be a time-efficient alternative to manual scans, but it can also bring down significant costs for warehouses in the long run. In fact, warehouses using FlytWare’s autonomous inventory drones generally experience a payback period of less than a year.

Deploying these drones is relatively easier since the indoor airspaces don’t fall under the gambit of regulations, thus saving significant resources.

It is not only limited to time and cost friendliness aspects. There are also other intangible benefits that these drones can bring, such as image proofs, scanning inaccessible locations, WMS comparison, increased safety of workers and goods, etc.

Despite drone technology seeing significant progress and proven success, their adoption still hasn’t reached the rate one would expect. While of course there are occasional challenges around costs, availability of information, and regulations, there are a lot of use cases wherein supply chains can get started with drones, such as inventory management inside warehouses.

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