3-mile flight makes history: Winsupply completes first drone delivery

Dayton’s Drone Express flies package from Miami Twp. to Washington Twp.

Winsupply is taking to the air with the goal of faster, more efficient delivery of the products its customers need.

The company, with the help of Dayton-based Drone Express, made its first drone delivery of a product Friday morning from the Winsupply Distribution Center at 9300 Byers Road in Miami Twp. to Centerville Winsupply at 875 Congress Park Drive in Washington Twp.

The 3-mile delivery process, delivering an item from NIBCO, which manufactures flow control products, was monitored through a visual line of sight, called VLOS, and the flight software used to guide the drone, according to Anne Felts, associated vice president of marketing at Drone Express.

“Our pilots are stationed at the launch site, central point, and delivery location to maintain VLOS throughout the route,” Felts said.

During the flight, the drone was never out of the VLOS of a pilot, she said.

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While flying over private property might seem problematic if the drone would crash or drop a product, “Drone Express carries the appropriate liability insurance, just like all aviation companies,” Felts said.

As of now, the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, limits payloads to five pounds, she said.

Although five pounds significantly limits what can be flown, that number may go up as operations and technology advance, she said.

Winsupply Inc. President John McKenzie said Friday’s drone flight was an example how the company can give contractors time back in their day.

“Time, as we all know, is the most precious commodity we have,” he said. “So just imagine contractors being at a job site and not having to leave to go to a supply house. The supply house comes to them. That’s what the excitement is driven from.”

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Delivery by drone, as opposed to by vehicle, McKenzie said, is “a value-added service that we hope our industry can use to create more value in the supply chain, more value in the project work itself and more speed and completing a project.”

“Most people when they talk about innovation, they look in a dictionary and they see ‘invent’ and then ‘improve.’ And Winsupply’s history is to do the exact opposite of that,” he said. “We improve an existing process and then invent a technology to go with it. So our approach with our drone delivery is ‘how do I improve upon the contractor experience with a supply house?’”

McKenzie said he envisions the company having a fleet of drones throughout the country that can be launched from sprinter vans within close proximity to a job site.

Then it would be just a matter of “opening up the back door of the van, pull out a platform and launch,” he said. “We want to get that last mile connectivity as soon as we possibly can.”

Drone Express CEO Beth Flippo said the company’s partnership with Winsupply “means a lot to us because they’re truly innovative.”

“They look at the technology, not how it is today, but how it’s going to be in the future,” Flippo said. “And those are the kinds of partnerships that we like to have where they understand there might be limitations, but they’ll be overcome quickly and they just want to be a part of watching it grow, watching it happen.”

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