Use of drones in the supply chain


IC Corporation is characterized by being at the forefront of advances in the field of logistics in order to offer its clients precise, effective and innovative solutions. An example of this is his successful work in the automation of warehouses to improve the handling of goods through automated conveyors in order to optimize information flows and carry out an exact inventory control. In fact, in 2015 it developed a project in Venezuela that consisted of the Interconnection of 5 robotic warehouses, through fiber optics, installation of biometric equipment, access control, CCTV systems and video conference rooms.

However, today the range of options is broader as 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), data science, augmented reality, the internet of things (IoT) and big data take center stage. as trends that are changing the way we operate in supply chains. This type of management in the world of logistics makes it possible to make better use of space, carry out deliveries more efficiently, reduce workplace accidents and even reduce the personnel needed to operate. The goal is always the same: dispatch orders in perfect condition, zero breaks and reach an immediate response capacity. 

In that order, an advantage that exists today is the autonomy of transport, since now the cargo units can be driven by themselves, increasing the productivity of logistics companies and reducing their operating costs. From the point of view of information management, both big data analysis and the Internet of Things have made it easier to obtain data in real time to detect any inconvenience in the supply chain, as well as to improve the routes , control costs and respond to customer requirements satisfactorily. In this last aspect, it is essential to use the RFID tags placed on the packaging and the geolocation of vehicles by means of GPS.

Regarding the method of printing objects in 3D, this advance has made it possible to eliminate the need to transport products from the logistics process, which has resulted in savings. 3D modeling allows the plants to be recreated in a three-dimensional model (digital twins) to simulate, among many things, the maintenance phases of the facilities in a better way.

It is no secret to anyone that incorporating these technologies facilitate the fulfillment of objectives within companies, allow obtaining profits in complex and highly competitive environments. In this sense, an advance in which it is imperative to stop to analyze its impact, feasibility and benefits is the use of Drones in the Supply Chain used basically for the transport and distribution of parcels, and warehouse and inventory management. This last point is executed in a private, closed and controlled space that provides freedom and security in its application by not breaking into public airspace. Its various uses include, in addition to inventory control, maintenance of facilities and surveillance, and the movements of light goods or goods that are about to be collected.

This revolution that is happening in stock control is called Logistics 4.0. As days go by, it is increasingly common to see drones in the warehouse, an activity that reduces the time of completion and lowers personnel costs, since no one can ignore that a drone can read up to 600 pallets per hour, depending on its modality. : guided or autonomous. All this allows the reduction of time in the corridor so that the area is free to be used. In the words of Alfredo Panceron, academic expert in Logistics and Transportation, it is explained that by not requiring movement operations, except for second counts or review of pallet incidents, the risks and risk conditions of an accident in handling are reduced of the pallet, in addition to reducing the use of collaborators in the process to almost 0, being able to redirect and assign those resources to other operations.

In this sense, Panceron explains that the warehouses must be conditioned and prepared to operate with drones: among so many details, the shelves and all the merchandise must be identified with a barcode, RFID or another. This identification must be on the external face of the pallet so that the drone can make a correct reading, and it must have an adequate size so that it can be read from a distance greater than 1 meter, which is where the device is positioned. In this order of ideas, the expert notes that the inventory can be done in a phase without activity in the warehouse with a view to not stopping operations 100%. 

It should be noted that the Warehouse Management System (WMS) may or may not be integrated with the drone software, allowing it to adapt to any type or size of customer.  Also, the drone follows the optimal travel path to the stock location (in automatic mode). Through an optical system that is combined with computer vision and deep learning technology. The device arrives at the stock location (in automatic mode) and visually inspects the labels, takes a photo of the barcode or and can use RFID sensors or directly through API’s (Application Programming Interfaces). “An API is a formal specification of how one module of a piece of software communicates or interacts with another.”

Finally, the Logistics professional Alfredo Panceron assures that drone scanning can be performed 50 times faster than manual capture, which means an exponential streamlining of processes. Photos from the drone are uploaded to the system instantly, ensuring immediacy. It is to be noted that in the case of labeling error or discovery of inventory shortage, the drone has the function of issuing a report with which the operator can review and act.

Many people will wonder why drones are still not used for mass delivery of products and the reason is that a drone pilot charges more than a traditional delivery person and doing it on a large scale in public spaces requires Permits from the Civil Aviation authorities. and the municipalities, in addition to having extreme security measures to avoid the danger of a fall on people walking on the road and prevent changes in the weather.

Regarding this point, the General Director of Combiberia, an expert in B2B and B2C logistics and international trade, Francisco González, considers that the road ahead is still long as there are still problems to be solved, especially with regard to the deliveries of merchandise. Some weaknesses that he points out are the little autonomy or the limited load capacity, “the civil liabilities that may arise from their use, theft or hacking of systems”, or even privacy problems if they are equipped with cameras.

However, society is constantly witnessing how drones and the other automated and robotic solutions mentioned at the beginning are working as a group of possibilities for logistics in order to optimize the supply chain.

That said, IC Corporation follows in detail all the alternatives that can be implemented in the world of logistics in order to continue offering technological solutions to its customers. The objective is to transform the way of working in the various areas to make them more productive, precise and efficient, having a complete vision of what is happening in real time and anticipating unforeseen events to avoid errors in the midst of all that Industry 4.0 means. 

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