Inventory Checks Powered By Drones

Drones are enabling organizations to use employees more efficiently and improve inventory accuracy in a world where consumers want everything cheap and now.

Every company on the planet that has a significant supply chain operation is plagued by inventory reconciliation problems. It’s the nature of the game, and to overcome this challenge, companies have historically used better forecasting, shifted safety stock levels, and enhanced order point and order quantity processes. Some companies never reconcile their inventories, some shutdown operations to do a full check, and others utilize a robust approach to cycle counting. Even in the best-case scenario, these processes produce an 89% to 99% confidence level of inventory per Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium Report: Inventory Accuracy Through Cycle Counting.

If you are a company carrying one billion dollars worth of inventory across your network, then losing sight of 1% of your inventory represents ten million dollars. So, my question to you is what are you currently doing to improve your warehouse inventory accuracy?

E-commerce, omni-channel, constantly-changing customer demands, and a labor shortage aren’t making these problems any easier. In fact, the rise of the digital supply chain is directly impacting how retailers, manufacturers, distributors, and logistics service providers manage inventory across all of their distribution and sales channels.

You may have the best warehouse staff on the planet, but if those employees are following manual repetitive tasks, errors are going to occur. It doesn’t matter if an organization has the latest and greatest warehouse management system (WMS). The fact is, if employees have to physically touch or scan inventory during the put-away, inventory check, or pick processes, errors are bound to happen. The only debate would be the scale of the problem.

A growing number of companies are considering the use of aerial robots (autonomous drones), coupled with advanced sensor capabilities like passive-RFID, cameras, barcode scanners and deep learning computer vision to solve their myriad inventory management and tracking problems. Having these aerial robots means performing repetitive tasks in hard to reach locations more efficiently than today’s methods. It will also enable organizations to allocate resources to more productive activities.

To be clear, we are not talking about barcode scanners strapped to quadcopters manually controlled from the ground by a operator. That is a recipe for disaster. The drone needs to be a fully fledged aerial robot that has stereo vision capability, enabling it to quickly move around in space safely and read inventory accurately. Basically, if a person is able to identity inventory, a robot can be taught to do the same thing.

That’s why businesses that struggle with day-to-day inaccurate inventory data, large year-end adjustments of physical inventory results, or a lengthy annual physical inventory process are investing in automated inventory checks using drones. This includes the biggest organizations in the world.

Some of the key benefits of deploying aerial robots for inventory checks include:

  • Improved employee safety
  • Savings in personnel costs and equipment
  • Automatic inventory checks
  • Accurate inventory quantities and location
  • Reduced losses due to inventory shrinkage
  • Reduced time spent in locating stock to replenish pick lines
  • More reliable financial reporting and conversion-cycle key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Better decision making about reorder points, out-of-stock inventory, and excess inventory

Matt Yearling is CEO of PINC Solutions. He joined PINC Solutions as chief executive officer in March 2013 and is responsible for the overall strategic and operational management of the company. Matt’s past roles include vice president and general manager of Encryption Products at Symantec Corporation, senior vice president of Global CRM Product Development at Sage Inc., Chief Technology Officer for Embarcadero Systems Corp (a Ports America company). As vice president of Oracle On Demand, Matt played a pivotal role in making it Oracle’s fastest growing line-of-business.