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Week of 20 Feb 2017: Deadheading Drones

Email Jim at jthompson@taii.com

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It is becoming evident that the skies are going to be full of drones soon. No, this will not be like the old Alfred Hitchcock movie, "The Birds." The sky is huge and it is already full of birds, but we see them only when they are close to the ground. The same thing will happen with drones; we will see them only when they are close.

Drones are going to become very large, too, and will lift large payloads. There are plans to test fly a human passenger-carrying drone in Dubai during this coming summer. Work is actively underway to build electric airplanes. The challenge there is to get the same energy density from a battery that can be achieved with jet fuel--and in the labs they are getting close.

We have heard a lot about drones delivering packages, but not so much about the return flights--there will be a lot of deadheading going on. Can this wasted transportation resource be put to good use? Hard to say so far, but if generally a hub and spoke system is followed (warehouse to delivery point and back) it looks unlikely. However, when drones get larger, there may be some opportunities to capitalize on empty payload space on return trips.

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This all brings us to what will likely be the first drone deliveries to your mill? Well, we can be pretty sure it won't be a press or calender roll. Although, way down the road, I can see this happening.

I think your first drone deliveries will come from your small consumables suppliers, companies like Grainger, McMaster-Carr, and Fastenal. Motion Industries (and other bearing stocking companies) will be right behind them. These companies all supply small items that can easily be delivered by drones in the very near future--and some of you will get your first drone deliveries by late 2018, if not sooner.

Right after that, the Fastenal vending machines will be redesigned so that the drones can deliver directly to them for restocking. If they are credit card only, this will make these machines attendant-free except for periodic maintenance.

We have mentioned before that you will be using drones internally for delivery as well. This is already being done in some industries although we have no reports of this in our industry yet. Current uses include delivering tools to personnel already at work in high places. This saves their time by keeping them from having to come down to fetch a forgotten tool.

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Join Jim Thompson on the 2nd Annual Papermakers Mission Trip to Guatemala, 22 - 29 July 17. Build houses, talk about the pulp and paper industry. For more information, email jthompson@taii.com with "Guatemala" in the subject line.

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I have been talking about drones for many years. Just because you have not seen them yet, does not mean they are far out in the future now. They are about to burst on to the scene and take over many tasks, to the point that in a couple of years you will not know how you did without them. I saw this happen with calculators--the slide rule manufacturers could not get out of the way fast enough--with personal computers, CAD, cell phones and many other technological disrupters. Drones are the next thing to affect us in a similar way. In transportation month next year, I'll wager I'll be writing about applications beyond the ones we are already seeing in surveying and high asset examination.

What do you think? Please take our quiz this week here.

For safety this week, drones are already eliminating some safety issues, but they will no doubt create some of their own. This will be dangerous for a while until we begin to see all the possibilities.

Be safe and we will talk next week.

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