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Are Drones the Future of Warehouse Operations?

You’ve probably heard the word “Drone” countless times on CNN and Fox News, but do you know what the term really entails? Formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), a drone is essentially a flying robot. You can either fly it through software-controlled flight plans that work in conjunction with GPS or manually control it with a remote.  We have all seen on the news and on YouTube, which people are coming up with new and innovative uses for this new technology. We have seen them used to keep an eye on traffic, weather, and sporting events, just to name a few .More recently, people have started to consider them for commercial purposes – this includes warehouse operations.

Warehouse DronesCurrent Warehouse Operation Issues

Items that do not sell become a stagnant inventory. This is a major cause of concern for most warehouses today. These unsold items continue to lose value yet manage to take up space in the warehouse. Therefore, it becomes important for warehouses to push these products out to retail stores by assuming the role of a distribution center.

Selling the inventory in the stores and not holding onto it is something warehouses need to ensure. Warehouses can prevent lost sales and remove uncertainty from in-store inventories by utilizing RFID-tags to diagnose, identify, and prevent out-of-stock conditions. Such situations can be rectified by using automation to push inventory and move it out to the storefronts.

Warehouses can increase efficiencies by up to 100% and improve throughput with the help of material handling automation equipment such as sortation units, picking systems, and conveyors. Walking product or moving product around is what order pickers spend about 60% of their time on. Productivity can be improved and travel time reduced through automated sortation systems and conveyors. This is where a ‘drone’ comes in.

Drone and Warehouse Operations

Drones can perform some warehouse operations really well even though they don’t have the capability to pick and place. These operations include cycle counting, stock counting, and inventory management. Drones are far more time and energy efficient than humans and forklift trucks when it comes to repetitive barcode or RFID scanning operations, Using a barcode scanner, drones can perform scanning with relative ease.

A team of eighty people with handheld scanners and forklift trucks will need three days to complete a stock counting job that a drone can complete in just two days on its own. Stock counting of large and uniform warehouses that contain numerous handling units above head-height is where the labor and time-saving benefits of drones will be most evident. By using drones for barcode scanning and avoiding forklift trucks for this purpose, warehouses can conserve energy. Additionally, drones help in avoiding inherent safety risks associated with lifting a human up to high racking to scan bar codes.

DroneScan And RFID Scanners

The success of any business is hugely dependent on how it manages its data. Businesses can save millions by refining this simple process to maximize efficiency. An example of this process refinement is the drones that DroneScan, a Durban-based software startup uses to scan the barcoded items in its warehouse. They use these drones to prevent the natural risks of warehousing and improve efficiency. Exponent is another company that is making advances in the use of RFID tags to track products. RFID has the advantage of not having to find a barcode; it just needs to hover near the product to read the tag. In a test that Exponent did in a steel storage yard in Dubai, over a 30 day period they had no lost products using RFID tags and drone readers. Compared to the sample of non-tagged product, there was approximately 33% of the product got lost at some point during the test.

The Future Of Inventory Management

Drones are slowly but surely making their presence felt in warehouses. Their use may not be common in warehouses right now, but one thing is for sure—drones are the future of warehouse operations! This is just the start of the drone revolution. As with all new technology it starts off slow and ramps up over the years. As innovators make improvements and come up with new uses for the drone, the efficiency and the cost effectiveness of having a drone fleet will soon be a necessity. This in turn will make have drones in your warehouse a necessity in the near future. The quicker that the warehousing industry adopts the drone tech the quicker today’s warehouses will become more efficient. With the efficiency gains by the warehouse drones you can easily see how you can call them green machines. Due to the cost savings and the energy you can potentially save time and money.

There will be thousands of high-tech jobs created by this drone revolution. From manufactures, programmers, testers, developers, to the end user there will be many opportunities for job creation. These jobs will take some specialized schooling and/or training. This will also create even more jobs. The future looks very bright for the warehouse drone.