In the past six months or so, there has been a lot of talk about drones being used in all types of applications. Sure, we all know the military uses drones to carry out combat missions and surveillance, but it wasn’t until December when Amazon unveiled its plans for Amazon Prime Air – package delivery by drone – that people really started taking notice of the possibilities.
UPS quickly noted that it, too, was exploring the use of drones to deliver packages. And the race was on…although the actual real-world debut of such technology is more likely years away, if ever at all.
Some people have predicted that drones could watch over the supply chain – particularly the security of high-value loads by flying over a vehicle on its route and monitoring conditions and potential threats to the vehicle and/or load.
Now, a company in the Netherlands is envisioning a more practical use of drones. Qimarox, a manufacturer of material handling system components such as palletisers and vertical conveyors, thinks drones may be helpful in building pallets.
Based in Harderwijk, Netherlands, and with a location Aurora, IL, the company commissioned a Demo3D video to show the capabilities of such a system. According to the company, the drones could pick up cargo off a conveyor system and neatly pack it on pallets for loading into a trailer. Although weight is a potential obstacle, Qimarox notes, that is not seen as insurmountable. Qimarox is currently studying the use of a drone system and commissioned Emulate3D to develop a dynamic 3D software model of a system in action.
“Because of the limitations in terms of capacity and ergonomics, using people to stack goods on pallets is no longer an option for most manufacturers of fast-moving consumer goods,” says Jaco Hooijer, operational manager. “Using drones, they can fully automate the palletising process, while retaining the much greater level of flexibility and scalability entailed by using real people.”
One of the benefits, Qimarox suggests, is the ability to adapt your warehouse loading procedures quickly by simply reprogramming the drones – which could be as easy as changing the setting to a pre-programmed configuration. Capacity can also be adjusted quickly, allowing companies to ramp up efforts during busy times. And, during slow times, there are no people to lay off nor the need to hire additional staff during busy periods.
If Google and others are ultimately able to perfect driverless cars and trucks, it’s possible that your next package may never actually touch human hands – from the warehouse to your doorstep – and that leads to a bigger problem for future generations: where will the jobs be?
Technology such as drones is great, but at what price?