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Drone’s Place in the Supply Chain

How long have we been writing about drones? Probably around 10 years or so, and we are still asking “Where are they?” It’s been quite a while and drones from companies such as Google, Amazon, Zipline, UPS, and more have evolved in shape, size, and scope, but they are all still vying for attention and deliveries.

Well, perhaps delivery drones are finally ready to take-off (and land). A number of companies have been testing drones around the nation and the globe, and a handful are ready for commercial operations in the U.S. at last.

Among the contenders are company Zipline, which is now working on deliveries for Walmart and has delivered medical products for years in Ghana and Rwanda ; Flytrex, from Israel, is focused on local food delivery, and Wing (from Alphabet) has increased deliveries of medical supplies due to the pandemic. And of course, there is always Amazon waiting in the wings to launch its drone delivery services to millions of consumers!

Why the interest in drones to deliver products? Speedier deliveries for one, plus lower transportation emissions, less traffic, and that ever-elusive instant gratification! Many companies see it as solving the “last-mile” delivery problem. However, the use of drones still faces in-depth examination and regulation from the FAA. Because drones are an unknown  commodity and can operate autonomously, regulations are needed to prevent accidents or over-crowding in the skies over densely populated areas.

Drones themselves come in different shapes and sizes. Zipline has logged millions of miles of flights for commercial deliveries in Rwanda and Ghana. It is now teaming with Walmart and testing deliveries in Arkansas. Zipline drones are 11-feet wide, fixed-wing drones that launch from a steel rail and land using a hook to grab a wire.

Flytrex from Israel has been making deliveries for Walmart as well. It is also in partnership with Brinker International to deliver food to local restaurants. It’s drones look like the ones hobbyists use and can carry six pounds (or 33 chicken wings).

Amazon has lately been more secretive than when it first announced its intention to use drones a decade ago. However, the company plans to operate 145 drone stations and deliver 500 million packages within a year. It uses a more radical design with hexagonal wings and onboard systems for detecting obstacles. To deliver, it flies a few feet from the ground and drops packages.

Wing has yet another design. It’s drones are made from carbon fiber and injected-foam, weigh only 10 points, and lowers a hook to pick up and deliver packages.

What do you see in the sky?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Poll students about drones. What are the opportunities? The threats?
  2. What are their opinions about deliveries to their homes via drones?
  3. Bring up companies’ websites and show videos from each:
    1. Zipline: https://flyzipline.com/
    1. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Prime-Air/b?ie=UTF8&node=8037720011
    1. Flytrex: https://www.flytrex.com/
    1. Wing: https://wing.com/
  4. What are advantages and disadvantages of each company?
  5. Divide students into teams. Have each team do an environmental analysis for drones: technology forces, social forces, economic forces, competition, and laws/regulations.
  6. How is each company poised to address the opportunities and threats?

Source:  Mims, C. (2 April 2022). Amazon, Alphabet, and others are quietly rolling out drone delivery across America. Wall Street Journal.

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Peloton Recalls Treadmills

Peloton has been riding high for the past year as gyms closed and people took their fitness routines into their homes. Peloton stock and sales are at an all-time high. To be clear though, high sales volume has given the company problems with supply chain and manufacturing during this time period. It even has a recall due to problems with broken pedals on its bikes which caused injuries.

However, a more recent and critical problem for Peloton has been a number of cases of injury to adults, children, or pets being pulled underneath the rear of the treadmill. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there have been at least 72 reports of adults, children, and pets being pulled under the treadmill, including 29 reports of injuries to children and one death of a six-year-old child. Serious issues indeed.

The recall notice was issued by Peloton, but only after an urgent warning from the CPSC that forced the company to change its initial stance about the problems. Peloton is now offering a full refund for owners of the treadmill.

What should companies due about hazards to consumers?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the components of public relations and crisis communications.
  2. Show video about the problem: https://youtu.be/RiAjg4RXLMQ
  3. View Peloton’s statement on its website: https://www.onepeloton.com/press/articles/tread-and-tread-recall
  4. Show the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recall notice for Peloton: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2021/peloton-recalls-tread-plus-treadmills-after-one-child-died-and-more-than-70-incidents
  5. Show additional recall notice for a separate Peloton recall: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2021/peloton-recalls-tread-treadmills-due-to-risk-of-injury
  6. What are the basic components and steps to handle crisis communications?
  7. How did Peloton initially handle the problems? What did they later do?
  8. Divide students into teams and have each team select a company/product. Then, have teams determine the steps to take during a crisis for that company.

Source: CBS; CNBC; New York Times; other news sources

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Amazon Drones get U.S. Approval for Delivering Packages

Drones seem to be ready to take over the skies, but are they really ready for prime time? Can they deliver the goods? And how does this change delivery services around the globe? We may soon find out the answers to some of those questions.

Amazon is the latest company to receive FAA approval to operate a fleet of delivery drones. The approval gives Amazon Prime Air broad privileges to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers.” Amazon will test its drones with the goal of achieving 30-minute deliveries for packages of up to five pounds within a 15-mile radius of a warehouse. The company has been working on using drones for deliveries since 2013, continually innovating the drone models. The FAA approval gives Amazon permission to operate a fleet and is not tied to a specific model of drone.

Amazon isn’t the only game in town though. Last April, Wing (owned by Alphabet) received FAA approval for commercial deliveries. UPS also received approval to operate a fleet of drones as an airline last year. However, in all these cases, widespread use is likely still years in the future as the FAA needs to establish new, automated air-traffic systems as drone operations will exceed what human air controllers can handle.

Ready for your drone delivery?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Review key aspects of developing a product positioning map, including determining the axis labels for positioning.
  2. Show Amazon drone video: https://youtu.be/3HJtmx5f1Fc
  3. Optional: Here is an older version of the Amazon drone model: https://youtu.be/MR9PoBAssw0
  4. Show competing drone services:
  1. Discuss which industries and services will be most impacted by drones. Why these?
  2. Will drones benefit consumers? How?
  3. Divide students into teams and have each team develop a positioning map for drone delivery services. What will be most important to consumers?

Sources: Associated Press; CNBC; New York Times; Wall Street Journal; other news sources

 

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