The New Life of a Package

SupplyChain

Wireless power is becoming increasingly important in the supply chain

By Alex Gruzen

Contrary to what people think, print isn’t dead. In fact, printed books are the most commonly purchased products on the internet. But when you click “Purchase A Song of Ice and Fire,” have you ever really considered the steps those five books take to go from a shelf in a warehouse to a package on your stoop, and perhaps how that process can be streamlined so it gets delivered to you even faster?

Supply chains have shortened as technological innovations and the IoT have allowed for steps to be digitized (or removed all together). Many of the most impactful advancements – including robots that can lift and move heavy items in the warehouse and autonomous vehicles that can deliver products across the country without having to stop and charge – are still limited, however, by one thing: a power cord.

As automation in manufacturing becomes more common in response to the increasing pressures from customers who want products delivered at a moment's notice, the need for a human being to charge up the equipments' batteries is going to be problematic. By removing the power cord and implementing wireless charging, however, manufacturing and operations can be significantly streamlined, 24/7, from warehouse to delivery, leading to happier (and more loyal) customers. 

In the Warehouse

As Industry 4.0 becomes more less of a buzzword and more of a practice, and more and more organizations look to shift to “lights out” manufacturing – i.e. manufacturing that is fully automated and requires no human presence on factory floors or in warehouses -  organizations  will rely heavily  on automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to get work done within their warehouses. From operating on shop floors that are too dangerous for humans to simply taking over repetitive tasks that often lead to injury (think lifting and moving heavy objects over and over again), AGVs allow for warehouses to become safer and more efficient.

However, they are currently limited in what they can do because of charging requirements. Today’s robots, despite long battery lives and quick charging times, must still stop work at various intervals and power up. By implementing wireless power, these robots will be able to function 24/7, charging as they go – or “power snacking” – via charging surfaces positioned at workstations, allowing warehouses to keep up with nonstop supply chains. 

The Delivery Process

The autonomous vehicle industry is taking off, and autonomous trucking is not far behind with the first delivery made in October 2016. As self-driving trucks gain popularity, delivery times will shorten considerably. Without drivers, these autonomous trucks will no longer be subject to the rules and regulations that require regular rest stops, or even to the more unpredictable human needs (like stopping off for food or a bathroom break). Additionally, as more autonomous vehicles hit the road, traffic and accidents are expected to be reduced, leading to fewer unexpected backups.

Retailers are also exploring another mode of delivery that removes the need for a truck or vehicle entirely: drones. Amazon has already begun testing this delivery method with its Amazon Prime Air service, a delivery system designed to get items to consumers in thirty minutes or less. As evidenced by this, the name of the drone delivery service game will be speed. And as more brands and retailers look to implement these services, it will be imperative that they come up with an equally fast way to power the drones so they can function 24/7 with zero downtime.

This is where wireless charging comes in. In order for fast, autonomous delivery – whether it is by vehicle or drone -- to take off, wireless charging technology is a necessity. Think about it: if there is no driver or delivery person, who is going to plug in a power cord? Wireless charging eliminates this question, as autonomous machinery can simply park or land above a power mat embedded into a designated space and recharge, or – eventually – power up via sources embedded into city infrastructure like roads and buildings.

Brands are already experimenting with even newer methods to shorten supply chains and get purchases, like A Song of Ice and Fire, into consumers' hands faster. From autonomous robots that can increase efficiency and reduce injury of human employees to the use of drones for deliveries, brands are innovating and they are doing so quickly. But similarly to AGVs and autonomous trucks and drones, in order for these technologies to become widely adopted, they will need to be powered wirelessly or risk becoming more of a headache than a help for those in the industry.

Alex Gruzen joined WiTricity as Chief Executive Officer in 2014, and has a proven track record helping companies accelerate growth and deliver value for customers.  Before WiTricity, Gruzen co-founded Texas-based Corsa Ventures, where he focused on building leading technology companies via early-stage investments. Prior to that, he was the senior vice president of the consumer and small medium business product group at Dell, and previously led the company's global notebook business. His experience spans product development, global sales and marketing, operations and growth through mergers and acquisitions, having also held leadership roles at Hewlett Packard, Compaq, and Sony. Gruzen holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a M.S. and B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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