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Supply Chain News: The Latest Fulfillment Dream - Mobile Distribution Centers


Amazon's Airborne Fulfillment Center, New Vison Delivery Van from Mercedes

Jan. 3, 2017

Well, once you see the ideas, the idea of mobile distribution centers seems almost obvious, but that's the result of creating thinking from and Mercedes, in moves that will almost certainly lead to more innovation in this area.

First, to Amazon, for which news broke in late December that it had been awarded a US patent in April for what it calls an "airborne fulfillment center" or AFC.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Amazon says the airborne fulfillment centers can navigate to different areas depending on a variety of factors, such as weather, expected demand, and/or actual demand.

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The AFC is a blimp or airship that is capable of flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet and would store inventory that is delivered via drone to customers below.


In the patent, Amazon describes a method by which some type of aerial shuttle would fly into the airship's storage area to deliver inventory and drones, while those staged drones later deliver items to a customer's home - or maybe even to a seat at a football game.

For example, an attendee at a football game might want to order a meal or a jersey without ever leaving his or her seat. The system Amazon describes would potentially enable customers to receive those orders within minutes - though the idea of drones flying into stadiums is a bit hard to digest.

The core idea seems to be that airborne fulfillment centers could respond to surges in local demand even before they occur, according to the patent filing.

Large gatherings of people for a specific event, such as a concert or a sports game, are one example Amazon highlights as a clear-use case. But Amazon also appears to believe that using airships could reduce the costs of drone delivery in general.

One major problem with drone for ecommerce deliveries is that drones for now and likely some period of years will have pretty limited flying ranges. That means Amazon or others would need to build many, many additional fulfillment centers to get product close enough to customers to make drone delivery practical.

But what if the inventory could fly in an airship to get within done delivery range? That possibilityis also key to the thinking behind Amazon's airborne fulfillment center concept.

Since the drones that Amazon is testing can't get up to heights anywhere near as high as 45,000 feet on their own, Amazon said in its filing that drones will fly back to a ground installation after delivering the order, where they'll be placed in a shuttle and brought back to the AFC. The drones apparently can descend from those lofty heights by gliding down with little use of energy.

The airborne fulfillment centers concept is roughly illustrated in the graphic below from the Amazon patent filing:


The Amazon filing noted that "The use of an AFC and shuttles also provides another benefit in that the AFC can remain airborne for extended periods of time. In addition, because the AFC is airborne, it is not limited to a fixed location like a traditional ground based materials handling facility. In contrast, it can navigate to different areas depending on a variety of factors, such as weather, expected demand, and/or actual demand."

Can it work? There would seem to be a number of obstacles - such as how does Amazon get drones back into the aerial shuttle after they make deliveries? - but it’s another interesting concept from Amazon for sure, just the latest in a never ending series of innovative ideas.


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The Mercedes Delivery Van of the Future

Another take on the mobile warehouse is a concept from Mercedes it calls the Vision Van.

The German car and truck maker claims that the all-electric van can help boost the efficiency of delivery in urban areas by up to 50%.

The Vision Van comes complete with a fully automated cargo loading system and the ability to deploy delivery drones and self-driving robots to get parcels to customer doors quickly.

These new systems will allow delivery drivers to dispatch multiple packages at once, increasing efficiency, especially in urban environments.

The maximum load weight on the drones will be up to 2 kilograms, which Mercedes says would cover around 85% of all Amazon delivery parcels.

These drones will also deliver their payloads to distances of up to 20 kilometers at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour, at heights of between 50 and 200 meters.

Pictures of the Mercedes concept are shown below:

The Mercedes Vision Van Features Fully Automated Loading and Package Retrieval

The Vision Van Would Send Drones for Local Delivery from Top of the Truck


Mercedes is attempting to transform itself from a vehicle manufacturer into a system solution provider offering integrated and intelligent systems in addition to its basic vehicles in the future, through digitalization, automation and robotics.

Do you see much merit in the idea of mobile distribution centers? Can a blimp make any sense? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below or the link above to send an email.


Your Comments/Feedback


manager, sms
Posted on: Mar, 16 2017

Great article. Big online retailers are competing in fast delivery, but for one day delivery is absolutelly necessary to have a fulfillment center in every larger population area. Drone delivery can function only in remote and rural areas. That is just waste of money.




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