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6 Ways Drones Help Improve Warehouse Management

Dec. 20, 2022
Warehouse drones are the newest tech coming to warehouses to improve operations. How can managers implement them?

Aside from being popular with hobbyists, drones are becoming more widely used in various industries. Many decision-makers are starting to use specialized options, such as warehouse drones, to improve their operations. Such technological implementations can boost efficiency, worker safety and more. Here’s a closer look at how drones improve warehouse management.

1. Enhanced Inventory Management

Drones can significantly accelerate inventory management. Warehouse supervisors can deploy them to take aerial snapshots of shelf contents, making it possible to tackle inventory checks much faster than manual methods allow.

One example comes from PFS, which manages e-commerce order fulfillment and has Pandora and L’Oreal among its clients. Business leaders have partnered with technology provider Vimaan for a planned indoor drone deployment through 2023.

People involved in the project say it will enable real-time inventory tracking against warehouse management system (WMS) data. The drones can also record information from every warehouse level, making them more thorough than some popular manual inventory tracking methods. They can capture up to 1,500 inventory locations every hour, breaking down to almost one scan per second.

Corvus Robotics is another company offering warehouse drones for better inventory tracking. Representatives claim the business has a fully automated system. That technology has attracted enough attention for the startup to raise $8 million in funding.

2. Tightened External Security

Warehouse theft is a bigger problem than many people realize; even relatively small-scale operations can result in major issues for the affected parties. In one case, five men were convicted of stealing $2 million worth of perfume.

However, drones improve warehouse management by strengthening external security. They can quickly take dozens or hundreds of snapshots of a property’s exterior, then send that data to the cloud. Getting such footage can make it easier for on-site security guards to spot possible problems. Even the most conscientious people can’t be everywhere at once, but drones provide the equivalent of extra sets of eyes.

Security managers have already used them to watch over other large-scale properties, such as farms. They also work well to keep concert and sporting event attendees safe.

Using warehouse drones for outdoor security does not, however, remove the need for other perimeter-securing methods. Those could include traditional security cameras, barriers, access control mechanisms and more. People should consider drones as a supplement to other best practices.

The main benefit of drones is how efficiently they can capture high-definition images for later review. That’s especially convenient since many modern warehouses have become larger to cope with consumer and client demands.

3. Reduced Labor Shortage Impacts

Warehouse managers continually deal with issues associated with labor force challenges. Many people in the sector are getting older and retiring, and it’s hard to replace them fast enough.  This is no insignificant problem, since 80% of distribution centers require manual labor. Such roles also have high turnover rates due to the grueling nature of the work and how it can put people at risk for strains and other injuries.

However, some companies specializing in warehouse drones focus on offerings that minimize labor market issues. The idea is that drones can support human workers, allowing the company to accomplish more per day than it otherwise would.

Drones from Gather AI accumulate data 15 times faster than humans can in certain tasks. They can also grab information from 95% of barcodes and labels used in warehouses, often allowing managers to reassign human cycle counters to other, higher-value duties.

There’s no single, fast solution to fix labor shortages in warehouses. However, drones improve management by giving humans more time to focus on other essential needs in those facilities.

4. Faster Deliveries With Warehouse Drones

People are also interested in seeing how drones could improve delivery speeds. One trial let grocery store customers receive their goods approximately 200 sec. after placing the order. That was ideal for people who preferred staying home and getting essential products delivered rather than shopping in stores. Such concepts could show how drones improve warehouse management by getting goods to clients faster.

Perhaps a warehouse customer needs to return a faulty product. Drone deliveries offer a method of getting replacements faster than they could with postal methods.

Companies could even offer services whereby clients can pay premium rates to have certain items shipped directly to them from nearby warehouses rather than receiving those goods from retailers. Such approaches cut down the number of stops deliveries must make before reaching the customer.

It will probably be a while before drone deliveries reach the mainstream. There are still many logistical details to work out, and the companies interested in using this delivery method must satisfy the appropriate regulatory requirements. Nevertheless, these early efforts show what’s possible.

5. Safer and More Thorough Inspections

Warehouse drones can also play an important role in keeping warehouses safer for workers. Some insurance adjusters report how drones help them inspect steep roofs while encountering fewer risks. Warehouses don’t generally have steep rooflines, but any inspections at heights have inherent dangers.

Plus, drones improve warehouse management by working more efficiently than people. They can take pictures of larger surface areas in shorter time frames.

Additionally, researchers from Australia’s University of Newcastle are working on drone technology that can predict individual pipe-bursting events. Municipal clients are among the most likely candidates for this technology if it gets commercialized. However, the potential applications for warehouse drones are obvious, too.

A burst pipe could cause significant damage to warehouse goods and infrastructure. Luckily, it’s getting easier to mitigate these issues. For example, some Internet of Things (IoT) sensors detect burst pipes, automatically alerting people and disrupting water flow. Leak-sensing drones could be part of a larger strategy to protect a warehouse.

6. Minimized Emissions

Many warehouse leaders look for practical ways to limit the emissions associated with their operations. Drones alone are not sufficient for meeting that goal, but they can help.

For example, decision-makers may invest in drones that can work accurately in low-light conditions. Operations can run smoothly with less electricity used.

Similarly, since drones work so efficiently, they may result in fewer resources used than manual tasks require. When drones improve warehouse management, more accurate outcomes may reduce the number of deliveries needed for stock replenishment.

Drones can also enhance warehouse processes. Consider how people ordinarily need elevating platforms to reach the facility’s highest levels when doing inventory checks; this equipment is no longer required when drones are used.

Drones Improve Warehouse Management in Numerous Ways

These six discussion areas help illustrate why leaders are increasingly interested in using warehouse drones to enhance operations. Such efforts typically don’t succeed immediately. However, the associated trial and error often pays off through money saved, efficiencies gained and safety benefits realized.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.

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