Are Drones The Way Forward In Warehouse Management?

Drones are aircraft devices that are capable of flying and carrying materials above the ground.

Drones are more often associated with outside activities, however they can also be used internally, such as in a warehouse. As with any emergent technology, many aspects of drone development are still in the works. Right now, drones don’t have the range to effectively handle all logistics needs for a company. Currently limited to small packages and short distances, today’s drones are still quite fragile and require highly skilled technicians and operators, which adds to production and use costs.

The good news is drone developers are in the process of managing and solving such issues. Consider the difference between the smartphones of today and those from just five years ago. The development of civilian drone technology is on pace to meet or exceed those advancement rates.

How can they help in warehouses?

Today’s inventory management requires workers to scan items manually, which is a very time consuming and an error-prone process. It’s impossible to keep track of all items in the warehouse manually.

The testing and emergence of drones in warehouses is already underway and is being led by retail and consumer good giants. Amazon launched its own drone program, Prime Air, in recent years to focus on the last-mile delivery as a way to speed up its already fast delivery. With Prime Air, Amazon Prime members will be able to receive packages in 30 minutes or less using drones.

Although the industry is buzzing with the talk of drone use and many are eager to jump on the latest technology trend, it’s important to look at the limitations prior to jumping in completely.

It wasn’t that long ago, drones and robots carrying out the work of warehouse staff seemed a far-fetched idea. However, in larger warehouses, flying drones and robots now patrol distribution warehouses regularly and are fast becoming the norm. They’ve become workhorses of the e-commerce era online that large retailers such as Amazon can’t do without.

Even though warehouse and distribution facilities are looking for ways to incorporate drones into their business model and operations to be more efficient, the use of drones is a new territory that must be navigated carefully.

Two drones can do the work of 100 humans over the same time period, according to supply chain specialists. This means they can do several tours of a warehouse – even at night – compare results, identify discrepancies, and build up a much more accurate picture much more quickly.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – drones, can be successfully deployed to upgrade warehousing processes.  A good example is the special aerial drones using optical sensors (cameras) which can help locate an item in a warehouse or scan the respective RFID tags at a distance of tens of meters.  In larger warehouses, a drone system can be used to gauge inventory levels and transmit the data directly to the warehouse management system. This will facilitate the fast detection of individual items and prevent inventory mismatches.

ClarusWMS in conjunction with key partners, provide drone scanning & computer vision solutions that can assist in taking that next step towards this latest technology.

Drone makers claim scanning accuracy of close to 100%. It is driving down warehouse costs, but it is also putting people out of work? Are they safe?

Despite drones appearing to be a winning technology, outperforming other technological applications in speed and accuracy and many companies eager to jump on the latest tech bandwagon, it’s important to look at the limitations prior to rushing in. Drones must overcome a number of limitations, such as safety, payload capacity restrictions, and political acceptance, before they will reach a high level of adoption.

Is sticking with traditional automation a better option?

While drones are still trying to gain acceptance in the industry, distributors can rely on the use of traditional automation to achieve significant results and have a high return on investment (ROI). Traditional automation boasts:

  • A proven track record. Automation isn’t new to the space. For more than 50 years, automation has demonstrated its ability to improve order accuracy and traceability.
  • Rapid fulfilment. An automated solution enables distribution centres to have shorter lead times, which in the end, maximizes the shelf life of products. By combining the power of a gantry-based, automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) and order picking, customers and stores are able to receive their products faster than ever before.
  • Better resource allocation. Unlike the drones’ operational rule that requires a pilot to be certified and within eyesight, an entire automated solution can be controlled by a warehouse management system (WMS). The WMS is able to control inventory under the gantry, and has the flexibility to manage orders to meet and maintain just-in-time (JIT) delivery schedules. Distribution centre operators can save resources and reduce labour costs by implementing automation instead of hiring additional workers to man drones.
  • More flexibility. With a robotic order fulfilment system in place, warehouses can adapt easily to inventory and volume increases, seasonal fluctuations and order structure changes, giving a high degree of operational flexibility. Implementing an end-to-end solution that can be designed to suit the throughput empowers distributors to get more out of less.
  • More control. The appropriate use of technology allows you to know where your inventory is located, gain fast access to that inventory and allow for improved order fulfilment rates to be achieved. Additionally, the technology provides visibility into your order fulfilment progress in real time.

Although it can be beneficial to be the leader in innovation, oftentimes it can cause setbacks and detrimental damage to a business. Innovation encourages us to try things we never thought possible, to see what happens, but what happens when it doesn’t go as planned? Sometimes sticking to what we know works is the best option.

About us:

Speak to one of our team to understand how Clarus’ WMS system can cost effectively support best practice warehouse management processes, better customer service and highly efficient working for a range of warehouse operations with pay per month options and no IT infrastructure needed.

Our platform can scale from a one user, small depot system to a 100’s of user distribution centre operation. The ClarusWMS platform will cost effectively scale with your business based on demand.

ClarusWMS is a UK based supplier of warehouse management solutions with a wealth of industry experience in third party logistics, wholesale / retail distribution, online fulfillment and manufacturing warehousing.