The Growing Role of Drones in Logistics

Drone flying in blue sky

Self-driving cars, aircraft, and other vehicles have long been the holy grail for many researchers. Today, advancements in technology are making this dream come true. Unmanned vehicles are moving out of the laboratory and into the real world.

The growing role of drones in society has significant implications for the logistics industry. Suppliers are scrambling to find the most effective ways to leverage drone technology, applying it to various modes of transportation in different ways.

Air
Making deliveries directly to homes and businesses by drone is the ultimate goal of many shippers. There are many legal and technical hurdles to overcome before this dream can become a reality on a large scale, but we can transport cargo with pilot-optional aircraft right now. This has the potential to decrease costs while improving safety and speed.

Ocean
There are several ways that drone technology may impact the oceangoing freight industry. The possibilities go far beyond ships that navigate themselves across the ocean—for example, drone tech could be used to load and unload ships at shore, reducing labor costs on all legs of the journey. If these ships are designed to operate on solar power, they may need to come to port only rarely.

Rail
At cruising speed, trains are phenomenally efficient. Unfortunately, they have to stop for loading and unloading. Stopping and starting a 10,000-ton train uses a tremendous amount of energy. The trains of the future could use drone technology to unload some of their cargo without stopping.

Trucking
There is a shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers in the United States. Self-driving trucks can help fill the gap. Not everyone is comfortable with autonomous trucks, but shippers can also apply drone technology to cranes, forklifts, and other vehicles that load and unload trucks in the shipping yard.

No matter what mode a shipper is using, drones have one enormous advantage. Just like the robots in an Amazon fulfillment center, all of the drones in your shipping operation, across every mode of transport, can report their position, ETA, power status, and other information in real time, giving shippers the ability to manage their fleets with unprecedented accuracy.

It’s an exciting time to work in the logistics industry. Advancements in drone technology and other automated systems now have real-world applications affecting every aspect of shipping, from the warehouse floor to the customer’s doorstep. What does the future of logistics look like? It’s difficult to be certain, but drone technology will certainly play a large part.

How E-Commerce Affects U.S. Surface Transportation

Import and Export Concept: Forklift truck, cargo container and plane at a dock yard against sunrise sky

Without government regulation, the supply chain industry could not exist in its current form. The United States government builds roads and the infrastructure needed to manage traffic on the ground, at sea, and in the air, so it’s natural for government agencies to be involved with every mode of transportation in the supply chain.

As the logistics industry and the world economy evolve, the government updates its regulations to keep up with the times. For example, e-commerce has relatively recently become a major factor in global trade. Now that the U.S. House Subcommittees on Highways and Transit and Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials are considering 2020’s update to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, e-commerce is a concern.

What’s Different About E-Commerce?

E-commerce, specifically business-to-consumer sales, depends on intermodal transportation. In the brick-and-mortar retail model, retail outlets receive items in bulk, and consumers take them from the store to their homes or places of business. In the e-commerce retail model, goods go directly from warehouses to consumers. This final leg of shipping is called the “last mile,” and it represents a different way of thinking about shipping.

The U.S. federal government is a major source of funding for surface transportation projects. Shipping industry leaders are working to ensure that the government approves and builds the right projects to support thriving e-commerce. There are three areas of concern:

1) Collecting Accurate Data
Making better decisions starts with having the best information. Collecting accurate freight data related to e-commerce shipping is the best way to ensure that new projects are meeting the needs of today and tomorrow.

2) Increasing Flexibility
Trusting Congress to manage transportation projects and investment nationwide is a recipe for disaster. Since changes in last-mile shipping trends affect localized areas, building flexibility into federal grants and allowing local governments to manage local projects is a better way to go.

3) Reducing Greenhouse Emissions
The supply chain industry depends on large vehicles like trains, ships, and increasingly due to growing e-commerce, trucks. We often associate these vehicles with greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA, they expect the transportation sector to produce over 1,800 million metric tons of CO2 each year. The House subcommittees must consider options that encourage reducing emissions for shipping e-commerce to remain sustainable.

E-commerce has made goods more accessible and life more convenient for people in every corner of the globe, and it depends on efficient logistics to do so. Cooperation between the government and the shipping industry will ensure that e-commerce continues to make an overall positive impact.

The Big Logistics Diversity Challenge: Supporting Inclusion in the Industry

Team managing warehouse logistics in an on-site office

According to the research firm Gartner, women make up 55% of the workforce—and yet, they hold only 37% of jobs in the supply chain industry. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), an organization of logistics professionals based in the UK, is working to improve those nu mbers with their event, the Big Logistics Diversity Challenge.

This event will take place for the second time in June 2020 at Newark Showgrounds in Newark, UK. CILT designed the event to promote gender and background diversity in the logistics industry, encouraging teams of all kinds of people to compete in friendly logistics-themed challenges that test their ability to cooperate to solve problems. The Big Logistics Diversity Challenge will also feature speeches by industry leaders and opportunities for networking.

Inclusion on a Large and Small Scale

Logistics is all about managing the transportation of goods, information, technology, or raw materials from one place to another. The industry depends on millions of people in different countries, with different skills, doing their part to make sure an item arrives at its destination safely. Efficient shipping requires cooperation between all kinds of diverse entities—it only makes sense for that global spirit of unity to apply at the smaller company-wide level too.

Why Diversity Matters

Every individual deserves the chance to pursue their interests and use their knowledge and skills to lead productive, fulfilling lives. There are many women and people in other marginalized groups that could be very successful in logistics if they only had the opportunity—to deny them is a disservice to humanity as a whole.

Being inclusive isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s also advantageous economically. Studies have shown that improving diversity in the workforce increases innovation and productivity. Bringing different individuals with numerous viewpoints together increases the chances for new ideas to develop and drive positive change within an industry. More diverse businesses are also better able to attract and keep talent.

Encouraging more minority groups and women to engage in logistics careers can only improve the global supply chain. We look forward to following along with CILT as they make progress toward this goal in the next Big Logistics Diversity Challenge.