A lot has been written about the rising popularity of drones, although they may not seem to hold much relevance to the logistics sector.  However, drone inventory management is making inroads and proving to be of vital importance to a growing number of companies who are able to benefit from the technology.

Drones are not exactly a replacement technology, more a complementary solution that makes work life more efficient in warehouse facilities.  Taking the annual inventory is a task few people enjoy, but the introduction of drones could be a game changer for many.  Below we go into more details about how drone inventory management works, its benefits and more.

What is drone inventory management?

Drone inventory management is the use of drones inside the warehouse to capture data to update central inventory systems.  They are not used to move any items around the facility or to get involved with order picking.  Rather than manually checking stock during an inventory review, drones can do this collaboratively or by themselves, allowing you to make more of your staff resources.  Drones have been traditionally associated with work outdoors in industries like land surveying agriculture and construction, but drones can also be legally operated indoors.  This opens up a range of possibilities for companies looking for long term efficiency gains within their warehouses.

Benefits of drone inventory management.

Utilising a drone for stock control management offers a number of benefits:

  • More reliability: Manual errors account for the majority of inventory errors in the warehouse. Using a drone removes the need for manual stocking checking, giving you a more accurate account of the goods currently stored in your warehouse.
  • Better productivity: A warehouse drone is able to read RFID labels and barcodes from a distance and can be controlled to fly from one aisle to another with ease. It will take a set of drones a lot less time to complete a stock check and they can also be used to access items stored at the very top of high racks which could be missed in a manual stock check.
  • Lower costs: The use of a warehouse drone can drive down costs and enable you to make the most of your resources, as fewer staff will be involved in the process. They can focus on other tasks that would otherwise be on hold during a normal inventory check.
  • Enhanced safety: Staff in the warehouse will not have to work in busy aisles as the drones carry out their tasks which makes for a safer environment during the stock check. It also means they do not have to take on repetitive, boring tasks which can affect concentration and often contributes to human error occurring.


How drone inventory management works

A warehouse drone can be controlled in one of two ways.

You can either use remote control or set a pre-determined automatic flight path.  The route is set using an indoor geolocation system and sensors, with the drone moving around the facility as designed before taking flight.

When the drone is in the air the cameras capture the information on each tag before moving along to the next one. While it can capture data on both RFID and barcodes, the RFID system is more enhanced, with products able to be identified from both sides of an aisle. Some will also allow capture from more than 25 feet away and where there are channels of pallets up to seven deep. All of this can be done without actually directly touching the tag itself. The scope will vary, however, depending on the drone and where the tag is actually positioned.

The importance of warehouse management systems

The other vital component of using a warehouse drone is integrating it with a warehouse management system (WMS). Drones are used for data capturing purposes only and this needs to be translated into readable information on the system. This can be done in much the same way as an RFID or automated system is integrated into a WMS.
If you are thinking of using a drone for inventory management then a WMS has to be used in conjunction. The synchronisation allows the logistics manager to identify any issues that are raised as soon as the labels are read, which makes for a more streamlined approach.

Are there any disadvantages of using warehouse drones?

Drone technology is being improved and updated all the time as it is still relatively new. This means there may be some downsides that you should be aware of when weighing up your options.

  • Initial cost: The more advanced the drone is, the more expensive it will be. This requires you to invest a fair amount of money, depending on how many drones you need for the warehouse. Over time, of course, like any other tech costs will eventually go down and investing in a drone will increase efficiency in your facility which ultimately offers cost savings elsewhere.
  • Potential interruptions: Inventory checks are usually best taken on weekends or evenings to avoid any interruptions to the normal work schedule. An added precaution that has to be taken into account is the risk of accidents taking place, so this needs to be planned for carefully before implementation.
  • Clear identification: In order to get the most out of the drones all stored goods should be correctly labelled. Tags will have to be displayed on the external side of the pallet and will have to be of a large enough size to ensure the drone can read it without issue.

Drone inventory management is the future

Warehouse managers are fully aware of the time and effort that goes into overseeing good stock control. When done manually it takes a lot of time and the arrival of drones is offering a new range of opportunities in this area. They have the potential to improve every day work functions and their ease of integration with WMS’ make them an easy fit for many facilities. When implemented correctly into facilities that can benefit from their use, drones will relieve some of the stresses that come with stock control, while also reducing costs and adding efficiency and speed.