Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
The delivery or courier service has evolved over the years. First introduced in the 1850s where packages were delivered used trains, it has grown with the invention of trucks and airplanes.
Drones, which are a relatively new technology, are also making an impact in the supply chain industry by helping deliver packages in areas where airplanes and huge vehicles can’t access.
One of the leading companies in delivering packages is Zipline. They have been involved in delivering medical supplies globally, having sent more than 180 million pounds of medical supplies, food and other essentials to remote regions so far.
In this article, I will review how they started, how they work, and what the future holds for drones in the courier industry.
Are you ready? Let’s get started.
What Is Zipline?
Based in South San Francisco, California, Zipline is a medical product distribution firm that develops, produces, and deploys delivery drones.
This firm has distribution centers in Rwanda, Ghana and the United States. To date, their drones have flown over eleven million miles and performed approximately 400,000 deliveries.
How Zipline Started?
Currently, the company runs two distribution locations in Rwanda, but it began deliveries in Muhanga. Because of Rwanda’s steep terrain and bad road conditions, airborne distribution is more effective.
Drone delivery costs are comparable to standard road delivery, especially in emergencies.
In December 2018, another drone launch station was established in Kayonza in the nation’s eastern region. The corporation thought by so doing, it would be able to cover 80% of Rwanda.
This second launching site, Kayonza, is located in an active region with other aircraft and military facilities, making it difficult to keep track of its drones.
Features of Zipline Drones:
Since Zipline have fixed wings that are substantially more aerodynamically effective than rotorcraft, they can transport significantly big loads over long distances.
It is simple to release this kind of drone from a launcher but landing it securely without landing gear or a long runway is difficult.
Zipline drones travels at a top speed of 101 km/h at 80-120 meters above the ground guaranteeing shipment delivery in 45 minutes. It has a cargo capacity of 1.75 kilos. Notably, Zipline boasts the record for the most extended commercial drone delivery trip in the United States at 79 miles.
For quick response between missions, the Zipline has a battery that can be rapidly replaced. It comprises a carbon-fiber inner framework and a polystyrene outer layer. The wingspan measures 12ft in length.
It features two propellers for reliability and can hoover with only one propeller or motor working. A parachute can be launched in addition to each redundant system to bring the drone to the ground if a more significant collection of defects occurs.
In case of a crash, the drone’s outer components are frangible, allowing energy to be released and the device to contact the ground with reduced intensity.
Although Ziplines cannot embark when wind currents are too strong, they can withstand both heavy rainfall and winds once in the air. Therefore, weather-related disruptions at the launch facility are usually minor.
How Does Zipline Drones Work?
Zipline drones are created and built in-house by the corporation. The company also constructs and manages its distribution centers, which function as a drone airport and fulfillment and warehousing hub.
Zipline receives orders from medical personnel from various hospitals and health centers. The order is received by a Zipline fulfillment technician who packs the medical supplies into a customized delivery bundle with a parachute.
The pharmaceutical items are then loaded into a drone by a Zipline flight technician who conducts pre-flight tests. The drone is then propelled into flight using a super capacitor-powered electrical catapult launcher, which accelerates the drone from 0-70mph in 0.33 seconds.
Then, the drone flies independently to the delivery location while each drone in flight is monitored by a remote pilot at each distribution zone.
Before delivering the cargo under a parachute, the drone drops to a height of 20-35 meters. A payload can land on a landing zone within a diameter of 5 meters.
The drone then circles back to the distribution facility, where it lands by capturing and arresting equipment.
Even in the face of steep terrain and bad weather, a Zipline distribution center can reliably deliver pharmaceutical supplies within 80 kilometers.
We can illustrate a Zipline delivery process as follows:
- Order placed at 10:00 am–
A client, patient or caregiver requires a product and places an order to Zipline by calling or sending a message or via a supply center or the e-commerce website.
- At 10:05 am Fulfilling–
The order is received by the Zipline fulfillment team, who picks and packages the consignment before transferring it to flight operators.
- Launching at 10:10 am–
The flight operators ship the orders right away.
- 10:15am Monitoring and scheduling–
The client can check on the cargo status, monitor it and organize it.
- 10:30am Delivery–
The consignment is delivered to the customer’s doorstep or a health facility by an independent drone.
- 10:45am Return–
The drone returns to the center for recharging and reloading.
How Zipline is Redefining Supply Chain All around the World?
Zipline creates, produces and deploys drones to revolutionize last-mile pharmaceutical distribution. The company’s digital supply chain saves time and money while also enhancing healthcare.
Compared to traditional road transport, drones’ quickness improves patient care with secondary advantages such as excellent product availability, labor usage, and product mix.
For instance, hospitals only used to hold a small supply of common blood in hand before Zipline.
When blood was in short supply, physicians could refer patients to more prominent hospitals, or lab personnel would drive for up to 8 hours to one of the country’s five Regional Centers for Blood Transfusion.
These centers were also affected by stock outs. Additionally, only a quarter of the country’s roads are paved, and most have inadequate drainage during the rainy season.
Even in severe weather, Zipline currently distributes blood through drones in 15-40 minutes.
Laboratory personnel no more need to travel to collect blood, and medical professionals can treat patients more quickly, resulting in higher labor usage.
Zipline’s drones are swift enough to transfer a wide variety of blood products to the last mile with time, and thermosensitive storage and transport need enabling treatment decentralization.
Additionally, customers can book on-demand since Zipline maintains merchandise strategically at its site. This strategy reduces inventory holding and transportation costs for individual hospitals and the government as a whole.
Due to a combination of stock outs, wastage and transportation issues, about a third of the world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, cannot access vital medication.
The new digital supply chain network from Zipline also benefits Rwanda’s public healthcare system. Before Zipline, hospitals used paper forms to order, monitor usage and document blood transfusion results.
Staff had to justify blood distribution based on criteria including present supply and past hospital utilization trends while contemplating orders.
Laboratory personnel can use Zipline to make purchases using a Google form or even make a phone call.
Also, Zipline has created a government-accessible online version to monitor SKU-level blood demand supply and consumption in real-time, avoiding reliance on hospitals’ current connectivity capabilities.
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a strain on pharmaceutical supply networks and medical workers, particularly in developing-world rural locations.
With this in mind, Zipline has used its infrastructure to respond to the epidemic in a flexible, equitable, and resilient manner.
The Ghanaian government has asked Zipline to distribute PPE nationally to expedite COVID test sample deliveries. Still, their continued work on COVID-19 vaccine distribution is likely their proudest achievement.
Zipline is cooperating with a prominent manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines to develop, evaluate, and scale unique ultra-cold chain packaging, assuring end-to-end product safety and stability, building on an existing partnership with Gavi.
The epidemic has put the globe’s patient care infrastructure to the test, demonstrating the value of a robust and flexible supply chain approach that takes advantage of on-demand delivery.
It has piqued people’s curiosity on the broader supply chain revolution that Zipline facilitates.
To keep pace, land transportation businesses will have to include air transport into their distribution networks due to the rapid acceptance of autonomous drone delivery led by Zipline.
Nevertheless, the company’s business and operational models must fully exploit air mobility to remain competitive.
For example, the demand for quick and regular distributions during COVID-19 provides an opportunity for companies to launch a drone delivery service that better matches client expectations.
What Is the Future of Zipline?
Zipline has received new backing of $250 million to assist them in speeding the creation of a new model for fast distribution.
They will continue to enhance their integrated service, including the autonomy platform, aircraft, fulfillment systems, and operations, with the extra investment.
The money will also help expand into new sectors and regions, revolutionizing processes like healthcare and trade with real-time logistics and bolstering their support for local people and allies.
Additionally, the company is working with the FAA to transition from an emergency waiver issued by authorities during the epidemic to full commercial, operational certification.
Zipline may have the edge over rivals in the FAA certification process since it has tens of thousands of hours of safe flight data to back up its claims.
The answer is autonomy. Zipline is excited to create an airplane with redundant hardware and software characteristics. This airplane will keep track of its own wellness and alert you if something is wrong.
And with such a structure in order, Zipline could quickly go beyond controlling a swarm of 24 drones with a single operator: much beyond.
Autonomous solutions that carry out robotic missions are a no-brainer. The more automation possible, the fewer complexity and difficulties a human operator will have to deal with.
Additionally, the corporation has inked deals for five additional distribution facilities in Nigeria and four in Ghana, and several new service contracts with hospital systems in the United States, in the last few months alone.
The new contracts’ infrastructure will be built out thanks to the investment round and returning investors. Within the next three years, Zipline hopes to service most single-family detached households in the United States.
The logistics industry’s unavoidable revolution is expected to change the way businesses conduct their supply chains in the long term.
Companies will need to change their business models to accommodate air mobility to boost efficiencies and stay competitive.
As governments attempt to supervise this new area while simultaneously supporting invention and emerging technology like the fast-growing drone market, it will become increasingly important to adhere to the regulations in place in the countries where operations occur.
To get the full benefits of autonomous delivery drone solutions, transportation companies must plan ahead for technology investments while budgeting for their implementation.
The fact that so many giant corporations, such as Toyota and Walmart, are beginning to make big bets in this instantaneous logistics field, I believe, is a piece of solid evidence that people are aware of its impending arrival.
A tidal wave of transformation is on its way. The intriguing part is that it will completely revolutionize how healthcare, economic, and logistics systems operate. It will enable logistics to provide equal service to all people.