Inventory management hasn’t changed much over the past century — a forklift drives up to a behemoth stack of pallets, the skids pick up the requested pallet or item and the pallet of inventory is is counted, scanned and moved to the proper delivery vehicle. Done. Repeat.
However, as they have in many industries, drones are turning mundane tasks on their head and introducing exciting new ways to optimize old industrial processes.
Meet DroneScan – a South African inventory management startup that uses UAVs to scan warehouse barcodes that would normally be too high to reach with conventional methods.
In a recent white paper, DroneScan founder Jasper Pons explains the process:
When it comes to repetitive barcode scanning operations out of reach of a human, drones can be 100 times faster and 100 times more energy efficient than using a reach truck to lift a 0.8kg barcode scanner held by an 80kg human in a 100kg man-cage up to each item to scan it. An 800g drone can lift an 80g barcode scanner to do the same thing. A drone operator can count as much stock in a warehouse in two days as a team of 80 people with handheld scanners and reach trucks can count in 3 days.
DroneScan uses camera-driven navigation rather than GPS due to a need for more precise locating services. Pons says the system can integrate seamlessly with an existing drone platform.
“Indoor is the new drone space,” he said in a recent report. “In the absence of indoor GPS we are lagging behind on indoor navigation systems, there are only a few startups working on indoor platforms, and it’s a race to see whose is ready first. We look forward to an explosion in indoor applications of drones.”
Using bin-location barcodes attached to warehouse racks, the DroneScan system allows a UAV to fly to a location (no matter how high), scan the barcode, transmit inventory information and receive database information that then helps guide the drone to the next relevant bin location in the process.
Although the system currently requires an operator (which is still a drastic reduction in manpower for most warehouses), the company is working on a fully autonomous platform.
Currently, large companies like DHL have expressed interest in DroneScan. The delivery giant plans to allow drones to perform quarterly stock counts in its large warehouses — 50,000 scan. A client coup like that could lead to contracts with UPS, FedEX and major manufacturers with larger warehouses, Pons said.
Pons predicts drones will soon be ubiquitous in the world of inventory management and warehousing: “Drone stock-counting services will be on-call. They will come in with their equipment on a weekend, download your warehouse layout, scan all the items in your warehouse and give you a report on the Monday morning for doing your stock adjustments.”