27 Nov 18

Drones are in the air in Germany

The German company ZF will operate automated drones to fly over spare parts on factory premises. Over time, this first of its kind project in Germany might end in drones assisting in package deliveries.

ZF is the first German company receiving a permit for the use of autonomous drones to transport goods on its plant premises. Each drone could carry a package of about 5kg, including the grippers and transport box, meaning that the actual cargo would be about 3kg, which is perfect for the need to transport spare parts or tools on factory premises.

First to last mile

Lately, ZF is performing test flights with a drone prototype between the central warehouse and the workshops on its site in Friedrichshafen. Once the test flight phase completed, the drones will be used to transport small particles from the central warehouse to the workshops, over a distance up to 1km. In the long term, the drones could be used for delivery outside of factory premises, performing last-mile delivery in difficultly accessible residential areas. 

Even tough flying at a speed of 30km/h, the drones will be faster, while relieving ground traffic on the site. Moreover, due to safety issues, the drones will fly mainly over the roofs of plant buildings. At this speed, the rechargeable battery will provide about 30 to 40 minutes of flight time; and if one motor fails, the drone will still be manoeuvrable.

Walking the talk

In the end, the drones will save time and money. ‘With approvals for automated drone flights from the Stuttgart Regional Administrative Authority and the German Air Traffic Control DFS, we can accelerate logistics processes in the plant and at the same time strengthen our technological leadership position,’ said Fredrik Staedtler, head of ZF’s Commercial Vehicle Technology division. 

By using drones in its daily operations, ZF is walking the talk, since the company itself is active in the Industry 4.0. Other companies will be able to use the delivery drones industrialised by ZF on their premises in the mid-term. In the long-term, the drones could even be used to support couriers, express and parcel services outside of protected factory premises. 

Image: One of the drones of ZF flying out over its plant premises.

Authored by: Fien Van den steen