Drones in Warehouse Logistics

Not everything that has wings is a drone. Or is it?

They’ve long stopped being underestimated as an expensive toy for ambitious model builders. To the contrary, today the focus is on exploring their economic benefits. Amazon is already working on using them as parcel delivery devices. But what about the use of drones in one’s own four walls, such as in warehouse logistics?

They’ve practically conquered civil airspace and everyone has been talking about them since word got out about Amazon’s latest plans: The e-commerce giant is working on using the unmanned flying objects for parcel deliveries.

Other companies like Google or the US-American pizza chain Domino’s have been experimenting with drone delivery as well. The latter has started testing pizza delivery by ‘DomiCopter’.

Security first, not just in outdoor operations

Since public air traffic is still regulated by strict rules, the regular use of drones is still a utopia in most countries. Too great is the danger that they could collide with unexpected obstacles.

Less well-known, yet significantly more advanced, is the use of drones within businesses’ own four walls, to be more precise: for intra-logistical purposes in warehousing. Indoor flights are somewhat more relaxed seeing how, in contrast to outdoor flights, supervision by a pilot is not required. Besides, there are no unforeseen obstacles to be expected inside a building, which simplifies navigation. As a consequence, the unmanned aircraft can be steered automatically and without the need for direct human supervision. Thus, the drones are not controlled manually, but by means of sophisticated software which efficiently distributes tasks to the individual aircraft and monitors them to avoid collisions with other objects or people.

Helpful and virtually infallible

The drones’ main field of application is the transport of items. The drones used are usually very light and small in order to operate flawlessly in the interiors of warehouses and the narrow and high rows of shelves. Despite their small dimensions, the aerial vehicles have enough load capacity to deliver the items from A to B without issue.

The use of drones is especially popular in the area of in-house spare parts transport, where the required items are flown to the conveyor belt where they are needed. The time saved in this way helps reduce or even avoid machine downtimes and losses of production. The car manufacturer Audi, for instance, currently has spare parts flying through the air at 8 kilometers per hour. You’ve read correctly: The required spare parts are sent directly to the assembler by ‘airfreight’ – he doesn’t even have to leave his workstation.

The use of drones is especially popular in the area of in-house spare parts transport, where the required items are flown to the conveyor belt where they are needed. The time saved in this way helps reduce or even avoid machine downtimes and losses of production. The car manufacturer Audi, for instance, currently has spare parts flying through the air at 8 kilometers per hour.

You’ve read correctly: The required spare parts are sent directly to the assembler by ‘airfreight’ – he doesn’t even have to leave his workplace.

Drones offer previuosly unknown adantages in warehouse logistics  

 

Inventory helpers

Another, almost revolutionary area of application for drones is that of annual inventory. Traditionally, the stock on hand is counted manually in a tedious, weeks-long process. This requires not just lots of time, but also large amounts of manpower. Since this job often has to be done outside regular business hours, it results in numerous costly hours of overtime and overtired staff, which in turn raises the error rate and increases the required rework. Inventory by drone can not only be done outside business hours and on weekends, it also reduces the required time to a minimum. The mechanical helpers used for this job are equipped with high-resolution cameras and scan technologies enabling detailed in-flight stocktaking. During a flight, a drone take 30 pictures per second, cataloging all articles in the shelves. The pictures are immediately analyzed and display current stock levels or storage errors by means of color-coded indicators.

The US-American supermarket chain Walmart is a pioneer in this regard. The corporation is currently working on perfecting the implementation of and transition to a completely drone-operated inventory, which it then plans to expand to all its subsidiaries. In addition to enormous time and cost savings, the company hopes that this transition will enable a more efficient use of staff.

There’s more

It’s become apparent that the use of drones brings about a variety of cost-effective solutions and promises vast simplifications in operative processes. Keeping in mind that all achievements to date are in fact just the tip of the iceberg of this technical innovation, it will no doubt be interesting to see what developments the future has in store.

Contract Logistics

cargo-partner has recently placed a strong focus on the strategic expansion of its logistics capacities. In addition to a new warehouse in Hong Kong (3,000 m²) cargo-partner has invested into a new iLogistics Center near Vienna Airport (11,800 m²) and in Sofia (16,500  m²), the expansion of its Logistics Center in Dunajska Streda, Slovakia (from 7,200 m² to 14,200 m² in 2017, with a further expansion by 4,000 m² in 2018), new warehouse locations in Hamburg (4,900 m², opened in 2017), Clarksville, Tennessee and Chicago, Illinois (14,000 m² each, opened in 2017) and Ljubljana (25,000 m², opening 2019).