May 02, 2023 | Inventory Management Blogs
The warehouse looks very different (and smarter) today compared to a few years ago. Automated storage and retrieval systems, robots and other sophisticated equipment can now be seen in places where several human hands once worked endlessly.
And it’s not just a change in how warehouses operate today. Their size has changed too.
Thanks to the phenomenal growth of ecommerce in recent years, warehouses are now much bigger in size and spread across millions of square feet. They store hundreds and thousands of product stock-keeping units (SKUs) that are neatly piled over one another in vertical patterns.
In addition to storage, warehouses are also being used for shipping and delivery. In fact, they have evolved into next-generation fulfilment centers that can handle multiple functions and respond swiftly to customer demand. Along with routine functions, they must also have dedicated returns facilities to cater to the increasing demand for reverse logistics.
While some leading names in consumer-packaged goods and retail have already deployed drones in their warehouses, many others are currently exploring how to make the best use of these unmanned aerial vehicles.
Fewer regulatory restrictions on the use of drones “inside” a facility has also triggered the interest of many businesses.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had registered 436,836 drones for commercial use as of February 2020. A significant number of these are likely to be deployed in warehouse operations.
Businesses that deploy drones in their warehouses can benefit in many ways. To begin with, drones can speed up warehouse operations by automating routine tasks such as inventory counting, scanning, picking as well as replenishment. In a large warehouse, drones can take stock of the entire inventory in a couple of hours.
In addition to taking pictures of inventory stored on the shelves, drones can record product temperature, humidity and other useful data. All this information can be used to assess the danger of perishable product deterioration and take necessary action to reduce wastage.
Drones can also simplify warehouse inspections by automating visual data collection. This means that inspectors do not need to climb a ladder or enter confined spaces in the warehouse to review the conditions of the products. Instead, they can simply review the data collected via the drone.
The use of drones also enhances the safety of human workers. They can easily scan inventory stored in unusual places in the warehouse that are not in the direct line of sight or cannot be accessed by humans. They also reduce the traffic in working aisles, thereby easing the movement of handling equipment.
Another key application for drones is intralogistics or the movement of goods within a warehouse or between a warehouse and an adjacent workshop. Drones can navigate pre-established flight paths and carry goods between different places in warehouse operations.
In addition to inventory management inside the warehouse, drones are expected to make a huge impact in the product delivery ecosystem. To reduce delivery times, leading retailers have already started using drones to fulfil same-day delivery.
Walmart now has as many as 36 U.S. stores in seven states that offer drone delivery in 30 minutes. The retailer currently offers up to 20,000 items for drone delivery.
Along with delivery time, drones can also help bring down delivery costs. This can be a significant advantage for companies as they look to navigate a highly volatile business environment.
Finally, the use of drones makes business sense amidst the ongoing labor shortage as well as rising labor costs across many regions. A rapid increase in the number of warehouses has made it difficult for businesses to fill vacant positions.