An essential component of our economy is delivering products to where they need to be. Many of the vehicles on our roads, the aircraft in our sky, and ships on our oceans are devoted to moving products from place to place. Throughout history, people have continued to find ways to move items around, including burden animals, carts, and more. These methods are still used in some places for short distance movements, but the vast majority of products are moved via more sophisticated and modern methods. Today, there are five main types of delivery used, and a few emerging methods showing great promise. It is likely that many more technologies will emerge in the near future.
Todays Delivery Methods
When the average person thinks of delivery, they think of trucks, vans, and cars being driven around to deliver products. It makes sense that this association occurs since these are the most visible in the average person's day-to-day. Delivery vehicles occupy our streets, delivering everything from our online shopping purchases to replenishing store shelves. Vehicles like these can be found across the supply chain, but are most common in the last mile as products are moving to their final destination. Many companies are working to replace their standard fleet vehicles with electric vehicles. There are now electric alternatives to delivery vehicles of all types and sizes, from small cars to large truck-trailers. Electric vehicles create excellent benefits for supply chains, including reduced fuel costs, increased sustainability, and even quieter operations in urban areas. These vehicles are currently in use in many short- and mid-haul deliveries. Further improvements to infrastructure, such as additional charging stations, are necessary to allow for electric long-haul deliveries being made.
Transporting goods by rail is not new, trains have been used to move products as long as they have been used to move people. Today, rail is generally used to transport agricultural products like wheat or grains, timber and wood products, and oil and natural gas products. Railroads criss-cross many developed countries, making it easy to move products to major urban centers. Another benefit of rail is that is has a significantly reduced impact on traffic compared to standard delivery vehicles.
Boats and Ships
Many of the goods we ship internationally or transcontinentally move by ships on the water, either by ocean or rivers. Because of the mechanics of ocean transport, large and heavy loads can be transported relatively easily on ocean freighters, with less fuel and manpower used per tonne of freight relative to transport by land. Even smaller river vessels are able to carry larger loads than trucks could, and depending on the direction of travel they can use less fuel. Many major cities are on ocean coasts or rivers, making transport by water and convenient and easy option, one which has been exploited for hundreds of years. This type of transport requires sufficient infrastructure at the ports for loading and unloading of cargo. Traditional ocean freighters have not been very eco-friendly, but work is beginning to improve their sustainability by exploring alternative, more green fuel options.
Today more cargo moves by plane than ever before. Airfreight is generally used to move smaller shipments over mid- to long-length distances, especially where the speed of shipment is an important factor. A lot of mail and parcel shipment is moved long distances by airfreight in order to arrive in the correct area to be delivered by other methods. Cargo planes are limited in space, as well as a limit of weight which can be shipped at one time. Airfreight is relatively expensive compared to other delivery methods, due to the high fuel costs per tonne of goods which can be shipped. Additionally, cargo planes are also subject to increased safety restrictions compared to land and water transport, thus they may not be a suitable option for all types of goods. Planes are generally not considered very eco-friendly due to fuel usage.
Bicycles, mopeds, and scooters
Dense urban centers present unique challenges when it comes to delivery. Due to the tight streets, high population, and increased traffic, additional vehicles like trucks and vans may have trouble traversing the areas. For this reason, many urban deliveries are being made using bicycles, mopeds, and scooters. These vehicles are smaller, able to move around easier in dense traffic, and able to move through tighter streets. Additionally, these vehicles are generally more eco-friendly than cars, vans, or trucks, and therefore contribute less pollution to these urban areas.
Future Delivery Methods
Autonomous vehicles are popping up everywhere, with more and more companies are working to design their own autonomous cars, vans, and trucks. Currently, these vehicles aren't traveling roads completely independently, as regulations and current technology require more updates. However, autonomous vehicles are quickly growing in capabilities, and are already being used in ports, rail yards, and other private properties. Autonomous vehicles are expected to dominate distribution in the near future.
Autonomous Delivery Robots
Companies are working to release robots capable of delivering items to customers without the need for human intervention. These robots are able to move along sidewalks or shoulders of roadways, some are even able to go up and down stairs. They are hoped to be able to make home deliveries to be made using vehicles such as cars, trucks, and vans. Pilot tests are being conducted now, and further rollouts are expected in the coming years.
Delivery drones have been announced by several distribution companies. In some places, these drones are already being used to fulfill e-commerce orders. Work is continuing to develop regulations to ensure the safe use of these drones in urban centers. Delivery drones are also being used to deliver products, e-commerce purchases, medical supplies, and other necessities to rural areas which may be inaccessible via traditional distribution methods.