ZF Friedrichshafen has started experimenting with a drone prototype to quickly transport spare parts at its plant in southern Germany.
Once test flights are completed, drones will help relieve vehicle traffic at the plant and move parts such as sensors or control cards from a central warehouse to workshops faster than before, the automotive supplier said.
The drones will be able to travel up to 1 kilometer and can, for example, save time when delivering packages to the upper floors of buildings.
In the long term, ZF said, they could also make deliveries outside factory premises.
The six-motor drone prototype can transport packages that weight up to 5 kilos, which is sufficient for the majority of spare parts and tools that may need to be moved.
ZF said drone technology is part of the company’s strategy to streamline and accelerate logistics processes and make them cleaner and more autonomous. The strategy also calls for autonomous depots, where airborne transportation can complement movements on the ground.
“With the drone, we are taking the transport chain to the next level,” said Fredrik Staedtler, who heads the commercial vehicle technology division at ZF.
The supplier said it had used agile working methods to quickly develop its logistics-by-drone project.
In Germany, drones were previously approved for private or commercial use for activities such as mapping, monitoring factory fences or surveying. ZF said it is the first company in Germany to receive approval to deploy automated drones to transport goods on plant premises.
By Arjen Bongard