With the advent of automation technology, warehouses have become much more efficient than they used to be. One such tool for efficiency is drones. This blog will explore how drones can help manage warehouse inventory.
Smart technology has made even warehouses function smarter nowadays. Unlike before, when you enter a warehouse, you see features such as an automatic system to store and retrieve goods. Automation technology has replaced repetitive manual jobs. Along with the operating technology, the areas of some warehouses have also increased. Due to the boom of e-commerce growth during the pandemic, companies have increased the size of their warehouses to meet the increased demands of online orders. All these products must be stocked and stored in stock-keeping units or SKUs all over the warehouse. Managing and tracking hundreds and thousands of products in warehouses can be a logistical nightmare. That’s where inventory drones step in.
So, what are inventory drones? They are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or simply warehouse drones. They are used to manage large warehouses. These drones are used for various activities, including auditing the inventory, finding stocks, and counting the number of cycles. These drones fly autonomously, identify products, and calculate inventory. Most warehouses struggle with calculating inventories, especially if they occupy large real estate. One of the most common ways of counting inventory is to calculate a sample instead of the entire inventory. Doing that increases the cost of production for companies, and not many of them can afford that. Drones are the newest introduction to the robotic technology that several warehouses are moving towards nowadays.
Use of Drones in Warehouses
The drones used inside the warehouses are useful in managing the inventory, handling the logistics within the warehouse, and checking and investigating warehouse incidents. However, the main use of drones in a warehouse is to manage inventories. Drones are majorly used in cycle counting as that is one area where many companies falter. In cycle counting, companies count a warehouse section as a sample instead of calculating the entire warehouse goods. That is why cycle counting is one of the most used solutions to count inventory. The count of the sample size lets you estimate the total number of goods in the entire warehouse.
Another inventory management aspect that drones help in is taking stock. Here, you must count all the stock in the warehouse. Therefore, you will have to identify the goods, count them, and take a summary of these goods. Thankfully, this effort is typically done once a year.
Drones help effectively in cycle counting as this process is monotonous, time-consuming, and expensive. Drones fly inside a warehouse with the help of its highly developed sensors. You must enter the current information of the inventory of your warehouse into the drone. Even before the drone starts operating, it must be given a planned digital map to help it fly autonomously.
Drones and Obstacles
Drones mustn’t crash, especially to a human being. Hence, drones have in-built technologies to identify an obstacle and take an alternative route if it come across an obstacle. Examples of complex in-built drone technologies include sensors, software programs with mathematical models, machine learning, and algorithms.
A typical drone used in a warehouse has certain sensors, such as the following:
- Time-of-Flight Camera: These cameras are highly accurate and can simultaneously consider the intensity and depth of the image pixel. It has high frame rates and is fast. The camera has a lens, a sensor, an interface, and an integrated light source.
- Stereo Vision: It is like the three-dimensional sensor in our eyes. The stereo vision of a drone captures an image from two different angles and calculates the object’s depth accordingly.
- LiDAR: Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors send short laser pulse and, based on how long it takes for the pulse to return, calculates the object’s distance. This calculation is based on the speed of light known to us.
- Ultrasonic Sensor: It is also known as Sonar sensor. It sends out a sound pulse at a high frequency and calculates how much time it takes for the echo of the sound effect to reflect.
Advantages of Warehouse Drones
Warehouse managers can benefit greatly from using warehouse drones. The major advantage of getting a warehouse drone is that you need fewer resources to perform low-value tasks. You get a better Return on Investment (ROI) as it is a one-time cost, and you reduce overhead costs and have fewer people to hire. You can scale fast using these warehouse drones.
Since it is a machine, the chance of human-related errors is less. The process of inventory management becomes much more proactive instead of being reactive. You can collect data immediately as and when it is required. Overall, the efficiency of warehouse management increases exponentially when you introduce drones.
Disadvantages of Warehouse Drones
As with introducing any new technology, warehouse drones also have disadvantages. Since introducing drones to the warehouse is a relatively new technology, there is no track record of the best practices and what works best. The drone operation requires human intervention still and is not fully automated. If there are small goods in your warehouse, the drone might be unable to scan and record them accurately. That affects the overall calculation of your inventory adversely. The popular warehouse management systems currently in use are not drone-friendly, so integrating drone technology into your current system might prove challenging.
The warehouses nowadays are massive and require automation to manage their inventory effectively, efficiently, and accurately. The introduction of drones can help the warehouse management system to a great degree. However, since drones are yet to be fully automated, you will require human intervention from time to time to ensure that the warehouse runs smoothly.
Previously warehouse was used only for storage. Currently, a warehouse is used for delivery and shipping. Many big players in the retail industry and consumer-packaged goods have already started using warehouse drones in all or some of their facilities. Several other companies are brainstorming to determine the best way to incorporate drones to get maximum usage.
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