The supply chain for just about every industry is increasingly global and requires innovative solutions to emergent problems on an ongoing basis. Particularly when the end point for delivery of completed goods or services is in remote areas that are difficult or unfeasible to reach by automobile, a growing number of logistics experts advocate for use of drones in last-mile fulfillment. Others, however, are concerned this option as currently constituted may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
The case for use of remotely piloted or even automated drones is clear enough: In places like the developing world or even highly rural parts of industrialized nations, it may not be practical or even possible to have drivers in land vehicles hand-deliver packages, according to DevEx. For instance, in parts of Malawi, health care providers often struggle to get the medicine they need simply because there’s little to no infrastructure that allows delivery drivers to make it across rugged terrain. This has led some organizations to begin using drones to both deliver needed medicine and pick up samples from patients that can be tested in more advanced medical laboratories in larger cities.
However, for a larger and more successful rollout of such options, more companies may need to buy into the idea that drones are a potentially beneficial part of existing supply chains, rather than just using them to forge new last-mile options, the report said. That may include more training for use and better communications between companies approaching the end of the supply chain as a whole.
Proof of concept
In the U.S., shipping titan UPS recently received its first certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones through its Flight Forward subsidiary, according to Supply Chain Digital. Since the program launched earlier this year, UPS Flight Forward has completed more than 1,500 deliveries to a hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, using drones – and now it will be able to expand even further. Partnering with the pharmacy giant CVS, the package delivery company plans to make residential deliveries a reality in the near future for consumers who can’t get to store locations.
“We now have an opportunity to offer different drone delivery solutions, tailored to meet customer needs for speed and convenience,” said Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer. “Delivering prescriptions by drone directly to homes could greatly improve the patient experience for CVS customers.”
While businesses will also have the obvious benefit of cutting their fuel and man-hour costs by eliminating complicated last-mile deliveries with drone options, there are other costs and challenges to consider, according to SpendEdge. For instance, the initial cost of investing in a drone army is clearly prohibitive, and ongoing insurance premiums for potentially dozens or hundreds of these devices would at least be similar to those for trucks and vans in some cases.
Furthermore, there may be challenges with deliveries during inclement weather, and urban deliveries could be far more difficult to complete than rural ones, for a number of reasons, the report said.
With all this in mind, decision-makers in the logistics field certainly have a lot to consider when it comes to adopting drones for last-mile deliveries.