Overview of Drones in Manufacturing & Inventory Management
Since its initial introduction into the military, drones are now highly accessible to the average consumer. With its manoeuvrability and video taking functionality, they have found a place in a wide variety of industries and recreational activities. Within business operations, one of the most commonly utilized uses of drones is to inspect inventory and to replace work practices that otherwise would have been considered dangerous.
One of the most significant issues facing managing physical inventories is that it is highly labour-intensive as workers are required to take extra time to determine exact product quantities. Subsequently, this process has led to increased costs, especially for companies where warehousing plays a significant role in their operations. Thus, this is where the utilization of drones provides companies with the highest amount of value. The usage of drones means that laborers are no longer required to inspect inventory, reducing the chances of workplace injuries. Due to the speed and flexibility of the drones, they are capable of conducting the inventory check process at a more rapid pace. This has the compounding effect of reducing labor costs and downtime when operations have to be halted for inventory audits. Some of the direct tasks where the drone would be used include the following:
Inventory Counting and Product Scanning
Through the use of imaging technology, drones are capable of taking images or videos to calculate the number of parcels within aisles and areas in the warehouse that might be inaccessible for workers. Also, they represent a more accurate alternative than humans, where errors are more likely to appear. Moreover, when equipped with RFIDs and barcode scanning technology, they become capable of relaying product information as well.
If a team is looking for a particular stock-keeping unit with the warehouse, they can use the drone to find the item and provide information on its location based on XYZ coordinates. Coupled with its multi-functional camera capability, drones achieve images from various angles to map paths in the warehouse that help find the most efficient route. If these two technologies are put together, drones can be automated to conduct high rate frequency cycles. Handling these checks ensure that inventory levels are always up to date and, thus, help eliminate inconsistencies that otherwise would typically occur due to human error.
Empty and Full Slot Detection
Expensive warehouse real estate can be optimally used by drone-based detection and, therefore, improve operational metrics. Typically, the majority of these processes would require drones to be piloted by a warehouse worker. However, certain drones can be programmed to perform some features automatically. A warehouse drone, for instance, can be programmed to perform automatic inventory checks throughout the facility, accurately identifying inventory in put-away locations, at the frequency of your choosing. Through the use of optical sensors, the inventory drones can navigate, identify inventory, and determine a safe flight path on its own. The key to its success would be through the reliance on sophisticated software.
Drone Application in Manufacturing
Manufacturing is highly capital and labor-intensive, which requires extensive amounts of planning while always being at risk of unsuspected delays. One core part of manufacturing is enforcing a high level of inventory control. As discussed previously, drone technology can provide operators with accurate feedback and give more detailed measurements on supply at a fraction of a cost in a safer manner. With proper supply chain management and the help of the drones, manufacturers can now keep a better eye on their inventories and ensure they have enough materials throughout the process. Furthermore, it enables inspection of multiple areas of the sight that would otherwise be dangerous for a person. Beyond supply chain and overall safety, drones can be applied in the following methods.
Security & Surveillance
Drones can be used to inspect and monitor essential sites from the air, resulting in more affordable and reliable protection of human and capital assets. Warehouse structures can develop cracks, leaks, and rust due to poor environmental conditions. Periodic drone-based inspections can spot these situations early on and prevent potential damage to inventory within the vicinity reducing losses. The application of surveillance is not purely limited to security. Drones also allow inspection of processes, production equipment functionality, and production levels via live video feed. They can also be used to retrieve measures from on-board sensors to detect problems with environmental quality.
Transportation of Raw Materials
Drones in the medical industries are sometimes used to deliver medical supplies to people’s homes and areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach by land. Drones can be used to deliver and load pallets utilizing the same concept. Given that the majority of drones are electrically powered and can lift heavy weights, they can be seen as an eco-friendlier alternative compared to using trucks that rely on fossil fuels.
Currently, drones are used in the construction industry to assist with land surveying, managing construction sites, and other aspects. The same technology can be used by manufacturers to identify optimal sites for plant construction. Similarly, the same technique can be used to inspect the site to identify risks that would negatively influence the structural integrity of the building, such as weather and rust.
Overall, drones provide greater operational efficiency, improved safety, and increased return on investment, and higher reliability for warehouse operators and manufacturing companies. However, multiple challenges face the implementation of drones. Primarily, drones have yet to be widely accepted due to strict legal regulations of airspace that revolve around the topic of public safety. Beyond legislation, hiring a professional and trained pilot and the engineer would also be a potential pre-requisite to utilizing drones in the industry, hence increasing labour costs. Even though they can capture data in various forms, it is up to the human worker to be able to translate the work into actionable insights that the company can take. As innovation and investments continue to be poured into drone technology, the future is not far from where drones become a human worker’s assistants.