New technologies, their development, and application contribute to significant changes in various areas of life, in particular, business. For instance, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, can improve supply chains at various stages. They can perform labor-intensive or routine tasks instead of people, significantly increasing efficiency and speed in the supply chain. UAVs were previously used predominantly in the military sphere, but their application in business can be very profitable and solve many problems. Despite all the benefits that drones can bring, their use has shortcomings that have yet to be solved.
UAVs have different capabilities, which have attracted the attention of many business companies. They are non-pilot aircraft, and for flight, drones use aerodynamic forces. Their control is carried out remotely, using programmed flight plans or automation systems (Škrinjar et al., 2018). Easy management, compactness, taking photos and videos, carrying weights, and other UAVs’ features contribute to their application in various fields. For example, they are used for research, security control, disaster management, military goals, humanitarian delivery, photography, commerce, and other functions. In turn, their benefits in the supply chain are more significant than the delivery of parcels, which is further discussed.
Usage in Supply Chains
One of the key ways to use drones in supply chains is to deliver parcels to buyers in business-to-customer (b2c) transactions. The last mile problem when a package is sent to customers is that this delivery stage is the most expensive in the entire chain. Therefore, Amazon, UPS, Walmart, and other enterprises consider using drones to deliver purchases to their consumers. As of 2021, this method was most actively used for the delivery of medical products by Zipline (Cunnane, 2021). Deliveries by drones have limitations, particularly weight, size, and distance to the buyer’s house. For example, in Amazon, parcels should not be heavier than five pounds (2.26 kg) and be sent further than 10 miles from the fulfillment center (Škrinjar et al., 2018). However, drone carriage has significant potential as it will solve the problem of deliveries to hard-to-reach areas, accelerate the process, and reduce costs.
UAVs in other supply chain stages can also bring significant benefits. For example, middle-mile transports in business-to-business (b2b) transactions usually do not receive much attention as last-mile issues. However, the use of drones in middle-mile logistics, when goods are moved from one enterprise to another, for example, from warehouse to store, also has potential (Reichmann, 2021). Although at the moment, transportation by trucks and other methods is more profitable since a large number of cargo moves, the advantages of drones in speed. Drawing attention to these factors, drone manufacturers are developing particular aircraft for middle-mile transportation (Reichmann, 2021). As a result, automation with big-sized UAVs is also possible for this stage of the supply chain.
UAVs are helpful as a monitoring tool at various supply chain stages. In particular, in agriculture, mining and aggregates, drones can collect a lot of data for analysis and subsequent decision-making (Škrinjar et al., 2018). Drones are very accurate, fast, and small in size, making work more efficient. In mining, they are essential since the use of drones instead of people is much safer and can save lives. Drone monitoring is also effective in other large spaces, such as ship ports (Cunnane, 2021). They solve the problem of lack of personnel, security monitoring, and work control in large spaces
The benefits of using drones in large spaces are especially relevant for managing warehouses with products. A process such as inventory of a warehouse takes a lot of time and effort. Using autonomous drones with sensors, companies can program them to independent stocktaking even at night (Cunnane, 2021). The procedure for the inventory is as follows: together with the drone, the Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) is present in the warehouse, which serves as a reference and platform for UAV (Škrinjar et al., 2018). UGV comes to the rack, and the drone takes off scanning the codes on the product, and UGV moves further along the shelf leading the drone. At the end of the inventory, the UAV returns to UGV and recharges. As a result, inventories will be more regular and accurate, employees will not have to spend much time on them, and owners will save money. Moreover, this approach will do work in warehouses safer, protecting people from injuries.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using UAV for Parcels’ Delivery
The use of drones is primarily necessary to reduce the cost of delivering and solving the last mile issue. Such use of this technology has significant advantages for both consumers and enterprises. One can distinguish the following benefits:
- Support for humanitarian logistics. Drones can deliver goods to remote areas, after natural disasters, for humanitarian assistance, or the dispatch of medicines (Rejeb et al., 2021).
- Increase delivery speed. Since drones fly directly and do not stop due to obstacles on the road, they deliver parcels faster. Consumers are increasingly demanding to sellers, and the speed of delivery is an essential criterion of service quality. Speed is a sign of caring about customers and increases their satisfaction.
- Lower shipping costs. The use of drones excludes trucks or other vehicles driven by couriers and other employees. Moreover, drones prevent financial losses due to product delays or mistakes.
- Increases sustainability of the company. Using drones instead of other vehicles, enterprises reduce harmful emissions.
- Flexibility. Using drones together or instead of other delivery methods gives companies more opportunities to manage the supply chain.
Although the benefits of UAV in the delivery of parcels are significant, enterprises must consider all drawbacks:
- Technical aspect. UAVs continue to develop, but their capabilities are limited at the moment. For example, they cannot fly far, carry heavy parcels, and batteries run out very quickly (Rejeb et al., 2021). Moreover, drones cannot cope with severe weather conditions like rain, snowfall, or fog.
- Security. Drones have a chance of collision or breakdown and, as a result, injuries to people.
- Organizational issues. Initially, drones require significant investments from companies to buy and configure them. Employees may not have enough experience to manage them, and there is a need for additional training. The work of the UAV can cause noise pollution and scare representatives of the fauna.
- Regulatory problems. There are no clear regulations and standards for the use of drones, which can confuse companies (Rejeb et al., 2021).
UAVs have great potential for use in various areas due to their functions and features. In commerce, they have a chance to become essential tools in supply chains, both in b2b and b2c transactions. Their use is possible when delivering parcels to customers and solving the last mile issue, middle-mile transporting, monitoring, and warehouses. One of the most profitable applications that modern companies target is the delivery of parcels. The approach has its advantages, as it reduces costs and delivery time, makes it possible to deliver to remote areas, and other benefits. However, enterprises should consider the disadvantages of drones: significant initial investments, technical shortcomings, and the lack of regulation.
Cunnane, C. (2021). The future of drones is now. Logistics Viewpoints. Web.
Reichmann, K. (2021). Drone companies see opportunities in b2b middle-mile logistics. Aviation Today. Web.
Rejeb, A., Rejeb, K., Simske, S. J., & Treiblmaier, H. (2021). Drones for supply chain management and logistics: A review and research agenda. International Journal of Logistics Research and Applications, 1-24. Web.
Škrinjar, J. P., Škorput, P., & Furdić, M. (2018). Application of unmanned aerial vehicles in logistic processes. In I. Karabegović (Ed.), New technologies, development and applications (pp. 359-366). Springer, Cham. Web.