Bulk storage i.e. on the ground storage allows faster access to individual containers. It also permits a clearer warehouse structure, such as blocks and rows. Bulk storage configuration is generally used for goods that take up a lot of storage space. Heavy items such as home appliances (fridges, ovens, water filters) and delicate items made of glass, such as beverage bottles, are usually stored in bulk configurations.
Despite years of knowledge dissemination of best-in-class inventory operations, encouraging lean practices, and inventory reduction, storing too much inventory is still one of the most common warehousing inefficiencies in supply chain organizations worldwide.
Traditional process of stocktaking:
It is imperative for product based businesses to maintain accurate inventory data from time to time. In some countries, it is even a legal requirement, especially for publicly listed companies.
Relying entirely on existing (manual) systems for accurate stock levels is risky due to inherent delays and inaccuracies. By comparing the figures from the stocktake with the existing inventory data in a warehouse management system (WMS), operations managers strive to identify discrepancies and fix them before they become problematic. Inefficient stocktaking results in problems such as:
- Stockouts (running out of products to sell)
- Overstocking (too many products on hand)
- Deadstock (products become obsolete before they can be sold)
Another relevance of stocktaking is to identify problems that inventory management systems can miss; problems such as missing orders, poor control, or theft or physical damages to the products.
Once operations managers and inventory stakeholders at large warehouses and DCs know how efficient their inventory controls are; they start to refine the existing processes to increase productivity and margins. Reevaluating the pricing to ensure all products are selling quickly, reducing the amount of safety stock in the warehouse, and optimizing space utilization techniques are common objectives of stock taking.
Problems/challenges in current manual method of bulk stocktaking:
Time: Manual stocktaking is a tedious process, where dedicated human resources are required. These could instead be deployed in revenue-generating activities like picking up items and loading trucks instead of being occupied in stocktaking activities.
Cost: The cost of labor, added with the amortized costs of the material handling equipment (MHE) is of concern to many warehousing companies, especially 3PLs who have to manage the process with limited resources and tight operational budgets.
Human error: Stocktaking being a repetitive and a time consuming task, it requires a high level of focus for each individual involved in the process. The lack of such focus often results in data entry errors due to fatigue, boredom, or laxity.
Honeycombing: Storing or removal of inventory in a manner that results in vacant space not usable for storage of other items. Honeycombing is one of the major hidden costs of warehousing, representing a loss of storage capacity and poor utilization of expensive real estate.
Limited visibility: Visibility is a crucial factor when manually counting the SKUs in a bay. Due to limited visibility, it’s often difficult for a person to count items at certain locations (e.g items at the top or middle of a high bay). Probably the optimal way to overcome these challenges is by deploying autonomous inventory drones inside the bulk storage facility. A typical workflow for deploying such unmanned aerial vehicles, to scan and count bulk inventory in each bay, is illustrated below:
To begin with, an operator sets up a mission for aerial inventory scans using a FlytWare dashboard – by selecting the aisles or bays to be covered. This is the only human involvement during the whole inventory count process. A fleet of drones take off autonomously from their home locations (in this case, a wall-mounted charging station) and enter the selected bays to capture images and videos from all sides. This creates a real-time digital twin of the inventory stored in bulk storage configuration.
As software technology advances, artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are used to automatically count the items in a bay, by analyzing the images captured by inventory drones.
Advantages of inventory drones:
- Automated inventory counts: Complete stocktaking process is automated, thus eliminating human intervention.
- Cost effective: Reduction in the use of MHEs (eg. forklifts, scissor lifts) used in traditional methods of bulk stocktaking ensures higher productivity of the staff and lower costs.
- Image proof: Live video feeds, auditable bay-wise images, and adjacent use-cases such as empty bay audits and on-demand spot checks for specific SKUs are made possible.
- Visibility: Aerial pictures of each bay increase visibility, helps in optimizing space utilization via consolidation and minimization of honeycombing.
- Safety: Aerial awareness of bulk inventory can help identify unsafe storage practices by forklift operators.
- Scalability: Faster and frequent cycle counts can be performed by deploying multiple drones inside the storage facility.
An important motivator for the adoption of autonomous drones at warehouses and DCs is the reduction of fulfillment errors where the inventory turnover is high and/or the facility has high-value goods. Below are products that are typically stored in bulk configuration, thus making them optimal for autonomous aerial inventory counts.
Streamline your bulk inventory counts and audits, by deploying autonomous inventory drones that feature live video feeds and date-wise image archives of each location. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a call with the FlytWare team.