Drones are Changing Supply Chain in New Warehouses

supply chain

image: Sven, CC by-SA 3.0

Drones are changing supply chain logistics and warehouse management for big retailers – and they could have an even bigger effect as regulations change.

Traditionally, warehouses are large buildings in industrial areas with big loading docks, allowing product to arrive and then to ship out to stores.  But as retailers change their strategies to accommodate shoppers’ shift towards e-commerce, warehouses are being rethought and re-engineered.

Retail giant Walmart has said that they will use drones in distribution centers to inspect labels and inventory.  This is a clear example of the efficiency of drones.  While employees with handheld scanners would have to work for a month to complete the process, a drone – really a flying computer – can do the job faster.

Speed is of critical importance to Walmart’s supply chain and processing system, as they have recently introduced a 2-day subscription shipping service, Walmart ShippingPass.  Since the service includes free online and in-store returns, a speedy logistics process is absolutely necessary.  And  using drones may be the way to do it.

In fact, Walmart has said that they will consider expanding the use of drones in their supply chain management.  Last year, Walmart applied for a Section 333 Exemption for commercial drone use in order to test not only the use of drones inside their warehouses, but outside.  A drone could fly over trucks as they approached, gathering inventory data on the contents before the contents were unloaded.

At the end of the process, there’s delivery – and while that may be in the future due to regulatory hurdles, it’s something that most large retailers – including Walmart – are considering as customer expectations of delivery times get shorter and shorter.


Amazon is on the forefront of the move to innovate the supply chain and logistics process.  With a long-term view, Amazon has opened twice as many “Prime Now” hubs as traditional warehouses from 2013 to 2016.  Prime Now hubs are warehouses built in urban centers, stocked with the most popular items – and they’re the reason you can now get 30 minute delivery from Amazon in some US cities.   This makes sense when you consider Amazon’s push towards drone delivery: urban warehouses provide the perfect infrastructure for fast drone delivery.


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