Drones could turn out to be a game changer in the business world. As companies like Amazon prepare to use drones to ship packages from a warehouse to someone’s back porch in just a few minutes, we’re left to wonder if this will turn out to be the wave of the future.
There are a lot of reasons to doubt that:
- The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have concerns about the use of commercial drones.
- Right now drones have a very limited reach, so only customers living within 10 or so miles of a distribution center could actually use the service.
- It’s cost-prohibitive and risky for companies to invest in an unproven technology.
- Consumers would probably have to pay a hefty premium to make the service worth it to retailers instead of using traditional couriers.
- There are safety concerns, such as if drones malfunction and cause property damage or bodily injuries.
But, as with any new technology, there could come a time when these logistical problems are solved and drones become a common method of getting goods to customers.
The Big Question
The question then is: How would drones affect the way companies manage their inventory? I see two major areas of inventory management being affected:
A dramatic shift would occur in warehouse workforces. Companies would need to switch to a more automated system where as soon as an order comes in, the products start getting prepped for shipment. People will need to work faster and smarter to keep up with drones. That means no more printing picking lists or hunting for lost items in a warehouse.
Companies will have to vastly improve their pick/pack/ship process and use mobile devices and clearly defined maps to guide employees through the picking process. Barcodes, inventory management software, mobile devices, and other advanced tools would be absolutely imperative to use.
2. Supply Chains
When you shorten shipping times from days to hours you’re going to need to get products into your warehouses much faster to avoid stockouts. Distributors would likely need to work with local suppliers rather than relying on a central hub for their goods. That way, they could be more flexible in responding to shortages and hopefully eliminate them altogether.
Finding the right inventory balance could get much harder because of the limited warning time. This could lead companies to overstock to be safe from stockouts, but that probably wouldn’t be best. Companies would need to heavily rely on sales data to spot trends and find areas for improvement in their order fulfillment and supply chains.
Looking to the Future
We’ll see what happens in the coming years. Technology changes so swiftly, it’s hard to tell what will be the next big thing. We’ll be in for a wild ride of creative destruction if drones catch on and revolutionize the way companies do business and manage their inventory.