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Logistics and supply chains have always been at the forefront of embracing new technologies, especially when it comes to automating processes to deliver their services efficiently. Right from the steam engine and forklifts, to robotic packers and delivery drones, this industry has never shied away from exploring new and promising technologies.

In fact, thanks to the adoption of new technologies, the logistics industry holds tremendous potential in implementing automation-centered technologies. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the transportation-and-warehousing industry has the third-highest automation potential of any sector.

Amidst these promising numbers, drones in logistics are expected to play an important role when it comes to automation, specifically for warehouses. Market leaders have not failed in noticing this, with spending on robots and drones forecast to hit $128.7 billion in 2020.

The Inevitable Need For Automation

While automation was seen as a luxury more than a need a few decades ago, it has now become an imperative for large scale warehouse operations. Buying or shopping online has become extremely easy and accessible, adopted for an increasingly larger share of both B2B and B2C fulfillment needs, thus creating a critical need for warehouse operations to be more efficient.

Manual inventory operations cannot keep up with the increased volume and velocity of warehouse inventory. Labor costs have shot up tremendously, to the point where the bottom-line of warehousing operations at large retailers and 3PLs has been severely affected. DHL recognized this challenge and invested $300M in warehouse robotics and automation.

Another important issue faced in manual inventory operations is the safety of warehouse workers. Despite bringing about increased safety measures, warehouse workers are still quite prone to warehouse accidents.

Besides these economic and safety concerns due to manual operations, another critical aspect is the degree of efficiency in scanning inventory. Scanning thousands of bin locations manually not only takes up a huge chunk of time and money, but it also brings about discrepancies in data accuracy. It is inevitable that there will be human errors while scanning or counting rack-pallet and bulk inventory storage.

The Obstacles to Automation

Like any emerging technology, drone automation in the logistics sector has its own set of challenges.

Lack of clarity: While we read about examples such as Amazon using drones to deliver packages, there is as yet little information available about the effectiveness of drones for warehousing operations. Due to this, companies have been somewhat reluctant to take the plunge, although that’s changing rapidly, as we gain ‘technological clarity’. Drone Logistics and Transportation is turning out to be a large market opportunity, driven by the sheer amount of intelligent technology and domain expertise that is required.

The second area of clarity involves the determination of whether a given warehouse is ‘drone-ready. This is an extremely important question to address early-on in the journey of drone automation for large warehouses, to help ensure that there is sufficient ROI and a compelling payback period. You can estimate the RoI of inventory drones for your warehouses by submitting basic information about your inventory operations to our ROI Calculator.

The third area of operational clarity related to the government regulations that control the drone flights. Thankfully, most of the developed countries do not require any regulatory approvals to fly drones inside enclosed spaces i.e. indoors. Some countries do require some permissions, but those permissions can be obtained relatively easily since the drone flights are not outdoors, and hence much safer.

Cost of Automation:Since robotic automation in logistics is considered a high-cost technology, it leads to hesitation on part of warehouse stakeholders. While custom drones do involve higher capital expenditure, the recent use of off-the-shelf drones has made it possible to deliver quick ROI and high operational efficiencies in inventory counting operations. Not only can warehouse inventory managers save on labor costs, but inventory audits can be made more fast, safe and accurate. Hence, in its truest essence, the use of drones in logistics is indeed an ‘investment’, not just an ‘expenditure’!

Turnaround time:Another concern for warehouse operators is the turnaround time expected to fully deploy drone solutions for inventory counts. Generally, the process of finding the right drones, intelligent automation software, WMS integration capabilities, etc. as well as training warehouse staff to operate these drones is indeed time-consuming. The time and expertise required to actually deploy the complete solution in each facility further adds to concerns related to implementation timelines.

FlytWare has overcome these obstacles to widespread drone adoption in warehouse operations, by providing an end-to-end solution, starting from all the hardware to the proprietary intelligent automation software built by us! Moreover, FlytWare is hardware-agnostic, allowing it to leverage the safest, most reliable, most-affordable, off-the-shelf drones.

automated inventory audits using dronesThe deployment of FlytWare in each warehouse is done by the FlytWare team and/or local partners in US, Europe and Asia. Warehouse operators can be trained in less than an hour to use the dashboard to plan, schedule, launch, monitor and log drone missions; which is the only manual part of the whole workflow!.

The Success of Drone Automation

The advantages of drones in logistics are clear and present. Take a look at how warehouse operations can be transformed once a fleet of drones has been deployed for autonomous inventory counts –

  • Faster & Cheaper Inventory Scans: Inventory locations are scanned or counted faster and cheaper, with FlytWare having shown that such counting can be done up to 3x faster and 3x cheaper. The drones can navigate through Very Narrow Aisles (VNAs) as well as tall racks easily.
  • Data Accuracy: Real-time analytics and comprehensive reporting, with image proof of each barcode, help validate inventory data like never before. This means no longer having to budget extra man-hours during inventory audits.
  • 24/7 Availability: Launch drone scanning missions at any point in time, according to the convenience of warehouse operations. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the majority of the warehouse operations due to heavy reliance on manual operators. But with autonomous drones, inventory counting operations are being continued without any disruptions.
  • Scalability: Deployment of multiple drones at each warehouse location helps scale up the frequency of inventory counting instantly, without compromising on the accuracy. The payback period can be as short as 9 months.
  • Safety: Reduce or eliminate the risk of warehouse inventory staff facing injuries during cycle counting, especially while accessing bin locations at high rack locations.

Deciding to automate warehouse inventory counts by deploying autonomous drones is not an easy decision. But, with the right technology and the right partners, it can lead to quick ROI and more efficient operations.

We have successfully piloted FlytWare at IAG Cargo (part of the same group as British Airways). We would be delighted to replicate the same success at your warehouses or distribution centers!

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