Supply Chain Matters calls reader attention to a recently published investigative report indicating that after a decade and billions of dollars in investment, Amazon’s delivery by drone program has yet to move beyond completed development.
A published investigative report by Bloomberg indicates that after Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos originally announced in 2013 that a fleet of delivery drones would commence in a five-year timeframe. the program: “is a long way from launching a drone delivery service.” Supply Chain Matters published our commentary on that very announcement, with the theme being the fostering of bold thinking and innovation, not to mention brand marketing.
Citing research involving internal documents, government reports and interviews conducted with 13 current and former employees, noted is: “a program beset by technical challenges, high turnover and safety concerns.” Nine years later, and more than $2 billion in investment, the program continues to experience setbacks and resets.
The themes noted in this report are a hard-driving corporate culture that called not only for designing and testing a superior drone from scratch, but also unrealistic overall timing and expectations. Current and former employees of the drone program are noted as indicating that expectations turned out to be putting speed to market before safety concerns. The need for a drone capable of safely transporting a 5-pound package safely to its destination has reportedly led to a vehicle that is overweight.
A series of leadership changes within the program have reportedly compounded attempts to get the drone’s various engineering designs and components working seamlessly together.
In March 2020, Amazon hired a former Boeing executive as a program interim director, an executive who previously led the commercial aircraft manufacturer’s 787 assembly facility in South Carolina. That facility was cited for numerous quality control shortfalls that, according to the report: “tended to value production over safety.” While this executive reportedly restored rigor and control and was not too long before the program focus was directed toward “speed over safety.”
In 2021, drone testing efforts were accelerated, yet, according to the report, staffing shortages required existing teams to be responsible for multiple tasks in efforts to boost required test flights. Noted is that over a four-month period last year, five drone crashes occurred at a testing site in Oregon. In June, a motor failure that occurred while transitioning from vertical climb to horizontal movement resulted in an uncontrolled 160-foot vertical fall that resulted in a fire that scorched 25 acres. The Bloomberg report cited documents indicating that team member departures exceeded 200 people in 2021, more than double the previous year.
We suggest that readers conduct a detailed view of the full investigative report since from our lens, it reflects the hard driving corporate culture that not only Amazon fosters, but others as well. The notions of hindering employee efforts to voice observed concerns without retribution, and hard charging executive leaders seeking to complete challenging program milestones regardless of the consequences seem evident.
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