Supply chain turns to mobile robots, not drones

Aug. 29, 2023
Gartner's Dwight Klappich talks about recent research showing drones falling out of favor thanks to incessant hype but warehouses turning to robots for increasing numbers of applications.

Back in April 1, 2014, Honda put out an online video, advertising a new way to buy a Fit compact car. Users could build their own vehicles, tapping into the artisanal trend at the time (complete with hipsters living in lofts). The kicker, Amazon drones delivering every component to the self-important DIY couple.

Thankfully, it was an April Fool's Day joke, but it marked a point in the hype cycle: When a new technology gets overpromoted and starts setting unrealistic expectations for users. Nearly every major technology hits that point where people get enthralled by the new and start looking for problems that the solution might just address (see also the current mania over ChatGPT). 

Drone technologies have followed that route, says Dwight Klappich, vice president and fellow in Gartner’s Supply Chain Practice. Once seen as a way for warehouses to track down materials and possibly move materials around indoors, drones are losing ground to mobile robots. There are still several industrial uses for drones such as inspecting hard-to-reach equipment or delivery goods in areas with poor infrastructure. But when it comes to moving boxes along a factory or warehouse floor, robots and people can do it much better.

And spending on robots should only increase. As companies continue to struggle to fill positions, automation may become the only answer in the coming years. 

"I just can't get enough people, so I need the automation ," Klappich says. "If you look at all the statistics , you estimate that the the GDP in the U.S. is going to grow 2.5%, but the labor pool is only going to grow 0.5%., we've got a problem."

About the Author

Robert Schoenberger | Editor-in-Chief



Twitter: @Rschoenb 

Bio: Robert Schoenberger has been writing about manufacturing technology in one form or another since the late 1990s. He began his career in newspapers in South Texas and has worked for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland where he spent more than six years as the automotive reporter. In 2013, he launched Today's Motor Vehicles, a magazine focusing on design and manufacturing topics within the automotive and commercial truck worlds. He joined IndustryWeek in late 2021 and took on responsibility for Smart Industry in 2023.

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