Drones Create a Buzz of Warehouse Inventory Efficiency

Inventory tracking drones enable companies to respond more quickly and accurately to customer orders. Their precise tracking also ensures that inventory is not lost on the shelves, saving money and bringing companies closer to the coveted zero-error warehouse.

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Image credit: Verity

Maintaining accurate inventory impacts so many aspects of a company’s business: sales, order fulfillment, customer satisfaction, profit and loss, shrink, and more. For all its benefits, the process of taking inventory is notoriously problematic. It’s time consuming, often requiring manual intervention and consolidation across multiple systems, which leads to errors and inaccuracies. Even worse, stock changes so quickly that the inventory numbers are rarely up to date.

Warehouse management systems (WMS) help tremendously. They track deliveries, current product, incoming inventory, stock placement, and work processes to optimize efficiency. In reality, however, mistakes happen. Pallets can be miscounted or misplaced. Items can be hidden or lost on the warehouse floor. Knowing exactly what sits on the warehouse shelves can reduce a company’s inventory carrying costs, which generally falls between 20 to 30 percent of the total cost of inventory.

Verity drone flying down a warehouse aisle.

Image credit: Verity

Abuzz with Activity

The goal of having a zero-error warehouse, one where the WMS has an accurate accounting of every item on the warehouse shelves, is increasingly important. With the growth of online ordering, quick order fulfillment can make or break a brand.

To help companies maintain a zero-error warehouse, Verity has created an automated inventory management system, and it relies on a fleet of drones.

The Verity self-flying drones zip through the warehouse aisles, checking shelves for inventory and misplaced items. Verity’s drone software system sends each drone on a specific mission. They hover at their destination, scanning barcodes and noting rack positions to identify item locations. Using artificial intelligence and computer vision, they steer clear of obstacles and other drones, yet still get close enough to check each pallet and determine whether a pallet position is empty or filled.

They upload the inventory data through the cloud to the WMS to keep it up-to-date. Integrated cameras allow the drones to snap digital images of any anomalies. Those images are uploaded to the WMS, where employees can resolve issues when they return to work. Advanced analytics and customizable dashboards provide operators with inventory details.

The fleet can track daily stock changes or do full inventory checks when needed. The drones function in no- and low-light environments, enabling them to operate on weekends or evenings when human employees are scarce. They also can self-launch and return to their charging stations once their work is complete.

Verity drone leaving its charging station.

Image credit: Verity

Flying High with Accuracy and ROI

Verity claims the drones can deliver 99.9 percent accuracy on inventory and a return on investment in less than 12 months. One client, third-party logistics company DSV, piloted the Verity drone system in a warehouse in the Netherlands. After thousands of autonomous flights and even more scans, DSV found the drones system cut by half the time needed to count inventory.

Sufficiently impressed, DSV launched the drone system in a Denmark warehouse and is now deploying drones in multiple warehouse locations across Europe. Every weekend, the Verity drones scan all empty slots and 25 percent of the warehouse. Once a month, they conduct a wall-to-wall inventory scan. When fully launched, DSV expects the Verity drones to reduce the time needed for inventory and pallet counting by 80 percent.

In addition to helping companies reach a zero-error warehouse, the Verity drone system frees employees to handle more complicated tasks. Better inventory tracking leads to a more efficient supply chain and less overall waste. The drone system can reduce CO2 emissions, taking the equivalent of up to 5,000 cars off the road for every 100-pallet warehouse. The sustainability of Verity’s drone system was recognized by the Technology Fund, a Swiss government program that supports clean tech projects.

  • Learn more about Verity
  • Find out how Hitachi Vantara, an Intel® IoT Solutions Marketplace partner, is tackling power line inspection tasks with drones.
  • See how other drones are used in industrial applications and disaster recovery.
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