23 Mar 2015
The trial was a “proof of concept” project, investigating the feasibility of drones being used to carry out an immediate, local service. Whilst current legislation and restrictions on the size and weight of items carried mean that deliveries of this kind will not be commonplace any time soon for FPS, the exercise has made it clear that the possibility cannot be ruled out completely.
FPS Managing Director Neil Davis says “we are constantly striving to find the most innovative and effective ways to service our customers. In an industry where time is critical, if we are able to get to our customers more quickly, in a way that aligns with our business ethos, we will continue to invest in making that a reality. In the short term, the drone solution is likely to be cost prohibitive, and with current legislation we are not planning any changes any time soon. In addition, given the varied weight of products in our portfolio, it would only really be viable for lightweight parts travelling to customers in less populated zones. However this has proved a very useful exercise to form our future vision.”
This project is part of the company’s clear focus on maintaining their industry-leading position far into the future. In 2002, FPS led the way with eTrading within the automotive aftermarket, and now conduct 75% of their £150m turnover electronically.
The product delivered was a Gates belt tensioner, from the comprehensive FPS automotive aftermarket product range. FPS is the long term distribution partner for the Gates brand in the UK. The item was delivered from the FPS National Distribution Centre in Sheffield, to local customer Brakeline, a member of the GROUPAUTO trading group.
FPS partnered with Yorkshire-based experts Droneflight (www.droneflight.info) for the project. One modified DJI s1000 drone and a DJI Inspire 1 were used to complete and film the delivery. The s1000 was adapted to carry a branded weatherproof box to hold the product for delivery. At a speed of up to 30mph, it could travel about 7 miles on one battery.
All activities adhered to the strict regulations regarding drone use, including line of sight flying, and safe distance zones for staff and public, particularly at take-off and landing. The total weight was limited to under 7kg, and all drones were operated by qualified pilots with permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for aerial work.
Several challenges had to be overcome, such as metal racking in the warehouse interfering with the drone’s compass, and weather conditions, mostly wind, making for difficult flight conditions.
Andrew Griffiths from Droneflight says “We were very excited to work with FPS on this project, and be part of this ground-breaking delivery. Drones have the potential to transform many activities not just filming. Inspection, surveying, mapping and even disaster relief all benefit from this technology.”
Current weight restrictions and legislation around the use of drones, particularly over populated areas, mean that much in the industry will need to change before this is a workable option for regular deliveries.