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Warehouse 4.0 is the next wave of technology adoption by the supply chain industry, driven by AI, IoT, digital twins and commercial drones. The promise of Warehouse 4.0 is inventory counting that takes hours and days instead of weeks, zero safety and theft incidents, nearly 100% accuracy of inventory reconciliation, minimal downtime, predictive maintenance, and most importantly – intelligent automation at the heart of indoor warehouse operations.

Drones (unmanned autonomous vehicles i.e. UAVs) are an essential ingredient in the digital transformation of warehouses – however, their adoption was limited so far due to 4 challenges:

  1. Capital expenditure on drone hardware and batteries, given expensive proprietary drones and short battery life.
  2. Coordination of drone fleets and missions without having to rely on skilled, certified UAV pilots.
  3. Safe operation of drones in a warehouse environment with static (e.g. storage racks, conveyors) and dynamic (e.g. forklifts, workers) elements.
  4. Integration with existing warehouse workflows and information systems.

Fortunately, commercial drone software is poised to provide robust, scalable solutions to these challenges in the immediate future. In fact, based on numerous proof-of-concept and pilot projects executed at modern warehouses across the world, it is now estimated that billions of dollars of business value are realizable via large scale adoption of commercial drones by stakeholders across the supply chain industry.

drones in warehousing

10 Success Factors for Drones in Warehousing

The following best-practices will accelerate the success of drone adoption for warehouse applications:

  1. Minimize capital expenditure and infrastructural changes by building a fleet of (primarily) commercial-off-the-shelf drones, complemented by charging pads and docking stations.
  2. Opt for cloud-connected drone fleets powered by intelligent automation, complemented by operators who focus on supervisory, efficiency and regulatory aspects.
  3. Ensure that drone hardware and software both have collision avoidance capabilities that can be continuously improved.
  4. Leverage high-quality image, video capture and recording capabilities of UAVs to build a rich, real-time view of warehouse operations.
  5. Involve a comprehensive set of stakeholders (such as in-house R&D teams, innovation leaders, system integrators, warehouse managers, IT staff, drone operators, and technology consultants) early on to prioritize use cases.
  6. Start with a couple of medium complexity use-cases involving up to three drones, especially applications where case studies of successful drone PoCs and pilots already exist.
  7. Validate the business case (investment, payback period, RoI, impact on KPIs) for these use cases within weeks, and grow the fleet to ten or more drones for validation of additional use-cases.
  8. Use customized, cloud-based dashboards to coordinate missions across stakeholders i.e. warehouse workers, drone operations management, subject-matter experts and senior executives.
  9. Leverage software APIs to seamlessly integrate drone mission control and data collection into Warehouse 4.0 management systems.
  10. Adopt cloud-based SaaS offerings, instead of on-premise enterprise software, wherever possible – to benefit from rapid scalability, continuous upgrades, prompt technical support, and flexible.

To learn more about adopting autonomous drones for inventory cycle count, item search, security, inspection, and other warehouse use-cases, download this whitepaper.

Schedule a call with our drone expert to learn about our experience with PoC and pilot deployments of autonomous drone fleets for inventory management in indoor warehouses, distribution centers, etc.

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