Automating last-mile delivery can help the transportation industry overcome the final hurdle.
Businesses around the globe pour seemingly endless amounts of energy into optimizing their supply chains, from sourcing and production to order fulfillment. The irony is that, after all this work, the final mile can be logistically the most difficult to get right.
With a little thought, it isn’t hard to see why. Earlier parts of the supply chain are more fully under a business’s control. Conditions within a factory are seldom influenced by the weather, and the middle stages of transportation often take advantage of economies of scale to get the most goods to the most people by the most efficient routes.
But the final mile, which is to say, the final leg of a journey from the nearest transportation hub to the customer, has any number of variables, most of which are difficult or impossible to control for. Poor weather, bad traffic, unforeseen road conditions, or broken down delivery vehicles can all upend a the most careful logistic planning and cause untold headaches.
However, last-mile automation, while still an emerging technology, is quickly proving itself to be an effective, low-cost solution for transportation companies. Here’s how.
1. More efficient parcel sorting.
When packages come into a local transportation hub, several steps must first take place before they begin their last-mile journey. These steps include identifying them, determining which route will be the most efficient, and loading them onto the correct vehicle. Modern vision technology makes it easier to scan and sort parcels, while robots can lift and transport objects of irregular sizes and weights.
2. Round-the-clock delivery.
Transportation automation means that traditional delivery hours may soon be a thing of the past. With autonomous vehicles able to operate around the clock, there’s no reason you need to give up on a package if it doesn’t arrive with the four O’clock post. Deliveries could also be made over weekends and holidays without needing to schedule more drivers.
3. No unplanned downtime.
Downtime is a part of any process, but there’s a big difference between downtime that has been planned for and that which comes as a surprise. Autonomous vehicles can reduce both planned downtime (no need to stop for lunch or to use the bathroom), and unplanned downtime (sensor monitoring to determine when a vehicle is due for repair).
4. Easy scalability.
In 2020, ecommerce orders rose over 30% compared to the year before. The rise in sales, combined with increased Covid disruptions and supply chain shortages, meant many businesses struggled to scale smoothly. But although the pandemic is abating, e-commerce is as strong as ever. Automated systems are an efficient way to grow the size of a last-mile fleet, without the need to hire and train more workers.
5. Transportation safety.
Traffic accidents are a nightmare for any transportation company, for obvious reasons. They’re also an unavoidable risk. However, autonomous driving systems combined with the newest generation of delivery vehicles can drastically lower these incidents. Autonomous vehicles aren’t hindered by weariness or distractions, and delivery technology that doesn’t use the roads is less likely to be involved in an accident.
6. Purpose-built transportation technology.
We’re used to packages being delivered by a mail truck, but this may not be the case for much longer. Some large companies, such as Walmart, are already investing in drone delivery as a viable way to deliver products directly to a customer’s door. Another option would be small delivery droids that could move down sidewalks. Both these options could effectively bypass traffic, and would be more space-efficient than a truck, making it possible to keep a larger fleet.
7. Green delivery.
Autonomous delivery technology can also take better advantage of green energy solutions than traditional delivery vehicles. Because they operate around the clock, they can better optimize charging time, and won’t have to plan for gas stops. Deliver solutions that move down the sidewalk or fly through the air also spend less time idling in traffic.
8. Efficient returns.
Returns are a necessary evil for most companies. As much as businesses don’t want the hassle of processing them, they also recognize them as a reasonable expectation for online shoppers. At the same time, most consumers find the returns process to be onerous, increasing their purchasing hesitations. Autonomous delivery vehicles could also make it easier for customers to handle returns by providing a way to schedule a robot or order a drone to pick up their packages.
Customers care the most about the last mile. Automation can be the key to delivering satisfaction.
After all the work that goes into transporting a product the hundreds of miles from the warehouse to the final destination, it can feel unfair that so much of the customer experience depends on the last mile. Industry leaders, such as Amazon, have only raised the bar, providing consumers with affordable same-day delivery and tracking that will notify customers when their parcel is only a few stops away.
The good news is that this experience doesn’t have to be limited to Amazon, nor does it have to come at the cost of stressed or overworked drivers. Last-mile automation may soon mean faster, safer, and more reliable delivery for all customers—and at a reasonable price.
Eagle Technologies can help transportation and logistics businesses be part of this transformation. From parcel sorting to delivery, our automated solutions can help your business across the finish line. Contact us today to learn more.
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Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI
Eagle builds the machines that automate manufacturing. From high-tech robotics to advanced product testing capabilities, Eagle offers end-to-end manufacturing solutions for every industry.