While the heavy payload delivery drone that JD.com is creating, is useful in certain areas of the logistics market, an even more exciting supply chain benefit is the ability to deliver more efficient field services. The heavy-payload-drone logistics capability is relegated to congested or remote route delivery, rather than the more complex last mile solutions that drones have recently been exploring, but in the area of Field Services these specialized delivery options become even more useful. Field Services for wind turbines for example would be a perfect application because these services drive supply chain complexity in that they are both hard to reach and require significantly heavy components. The same is true for the Oil and Gas and the Energy and Utilities sectors. In these industries, heavy payload drones could speed up service times, and when combined with smart products could increase first time fix rates.
Another benefit that these types of solutions could bring is a reduction in all logistics costs regardless of the mode. In the retail sector land based drones have already reduced last mile costs by 70-80%. A similar improvement could be possible in the air or remote delivery market, and disruption in any area of transportation will bring further cost reduction in the other modes.
While JD’s announcement is good marketing, I think the supply chain usefulness of the future solution is in Field Services. Companies not investing in some form of these new technologies, are certainly going to be left behind.