Cycle counting of warehouse inventory, a labor intensive but high-value business activity, can now be done aerially, automatically and intelligently. FlytWare, an autonomous drone solution for indoor operations, is designed to be deployed for pallet and case reserve counts; be it freight forwarding sites, cargo storage facilities and warehouses – or – DCs, fulfillment centers and retail stores.
Traditional warehouses are being disrupted by global e-commerce, high velocity supply chains, same-day delivery commitments, and intense cost pressures. Supply chain executives are keenly aware that digital transformation is not just a buzz word – without rapid technology adoption, their inventory operations will soon be obsolete. Expensive real estate is pushing warehouse managers to accept very narrow aisles and very tall racks, labor shortages are leading CXOs to embrace automation and customer SLAs are forcing 3PLs to higher frequency cycle counts. Shutting down picking/storage areas during working hours or doing incomplete cycle counts is simply not an option – neither is location inaccuracy or the lack of auditable data.
This is exactly the pain point that drones, for the past several years, have sought to address. However, custom, expensive drones that lacked stability and reliability turned out to be unsuitable for aerial inventory counts – as did manually flown, off-the-shelf drones retrofit with scanners and sensors. Far from offering a fair return on investment, these solutions failed to dive deeper into the ground realities of warehouse inventory operations – such as full vs. broken pallets, one-deep vs. multi-deep storage, case reserves kept in VNAs, enormous variations in the quality of barcode labels, limited hours available for drone flights, etc.
Kaushik Gala, Chief Business Officer, FlytBase, who recently spoke about this challenge – as well as opportunity – at the North Carolina Drone Summit noted “Since last year, we have been in deep conversations about aerial inventory counts with warehouse general managers, inventory stakeholders, VPs of digital transformation & operations, IT systems managers, finance controllers, and supply chain innovation teams. Despite past setbacks, they continue to believe that autonomous drones are one of the most promising warehouse automation solutions – not only because of their cost-effectiveness and rapid scalability, but also because of the opportunity to easily adopt them as part of continuous operational improvement initiatives”.
With FlytWare, inventory stakeholders can now adopt technology that has matured beyond R&D to PoC and pilot deployments, and is ready for production rollouts across dozens of sites and hundreds of drones. Having overcome the key challenges of indoor autonomous navigation, automatic barcode scanning and reliable, affordable hardware, FlytWare has advanced to a commercial solution that can be a) configured for various storage layouts, b) operated through an operator-friendly dashboard, and c) integrated with API-enabled WMS. The operational success of FlytWare is driven by continuously refining the solution in close partnership with warehouse inventory and IT teams.
FlytWare builds upon the robust FlytBase technology platform, which combines flight autonomy, edge intelligence and cloud connectivity with the ability to remotely manage drone fleets and support for all major drone hardware.
Nitin Gupta, Director, FlytBase, highlighted this: “Our close engagement with a large European air cargo company has resulted not only in the successful pilot deployment of FlytWare at their freight forwarding warehouse but also in an acceleration towards a production rollout of autonomous drone fleets across their sites. The power of intelligent automation software, that leverages commoditized drone hardware, is reflected in the business value for customers – payback period could be as short as 1 year, IRR could potentially cross 30% in 3 years, and recurring expenses may drop to a fraction of what they would be for manually counts – at the desired frequency, auditability, and accuracy.”
The journey to adopting drones at warehouses can be started in a matter of days with a quick PoC deployment, followed by seamless integration of FlytWare into existing warehouse operations, and on-site training & certification.