Primed for Takeoff?

Amazon Prime Air hovers closer to reality in easing pressure on the supply chain.


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BBC News last week carried a story that Amazon has partnered with the U.K. Government to test some of the technologies that may one day enable its Prime Air drone delivery service.

This is big news and shows the UK Government taking a lead in this exciting and potentially highly disruptive technology. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), has given permission to explore beyond-line-of-sight operations in rural and suburban areas which is something the U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow. Amazon see the UK as a key partner in achieving their goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world. This is one of many areas where technology is disrupting the Supply Chain. In an article about how procurement can harness big data analytics, SCM World discussed the relative importance and disruption of different technologies on the supply chain. The thing that strikes me is the speed at which these technologies are evolving and having significant business impact.

Along with Drones at the less important and disruptive end of the spectrum was 3D Printing. This article from TechRepublic details 10 companies using 3D Printing in ground breaking ways and a couple of examples are quite remarkable. Ford has been using 3D printing technology since the 1980s and recently printed its 500,000th part with a 3D printer, which was an engine cover for the new Ford Mustang. According to Ford's website, traditional methods would take four months and $500,000, but with 3D printing, the same process takes four days and $3,000. Advanced Robotics was about half way up the list and it’s the same story with some really interesting and impactful initiatives. In the Robot Report, April 2015, Frank Tobe shared that Amazon announced plans to roll out 10,000 robots into a network of warehouses—a move which it says will create up to $900 million in fulfillment cost savings— or up to 40% savings on cost per order.

At a time when supply chains are under enormous pressure to drive efficiencies whilst supporting innovative new customer propositions and initiatives such as same day delivery and Click and Collect it is encouraging that technology is offering the means to achieve both objectives.

Of course technology and analytics offer a variety of ways to drive efficiency and ensure that the customer is always at the center of the operation. New technologies will offer new challenges along with the opportunities and businesses that find ways of adopting and commercializing these will ultimately be the winners. Back where we started to Drones; speaking at an Amazon event earlier this month, Liam Maxwell, national technology adviser to the U.K. government, noted that the U.K. was one of the most progressive countries when it comes to testing new autonomous technologies like drones, and Amazon was among “a lot of major companies” testing products outside of main aviation spaces.

This begs the question of what’s next on the horizon?

Photo credit: Mike Licht, via / CC BY

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