Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) Inventory Counts using Drones in Warehouses & Distribution Centers
Real estate is usually the largest expense item in the P&L of a warehousing operation - whether a 3PL or a company owned one. As e-commerce penetrates an increasingly larger share of the retail industry, warehouses and DCs are being created/expanded near high population areas to enable same-day delivery, reduce last-mile shipping costs, and allow retailers to stay competitive in an always-connected global economy.
This, in turn, is driving inventory stakeholders to move their top-tier sites from majority bulk storage to majority racking, and from traditional aisles to very narrow aisles (VNAs). Rack heights have steadily increased from 25 feet, on average, to 35 feet or more; aisles widths have steadily decreased from 10 feet on average, to 6 feet or less. Given the higher inventory density, VNAs are expected to become a common sight in larger facilities in developed economies, despite the associated expenses of heavy-duty, swing-reach trucks and retraining of inventory operators.
It turns out that incentives are well-aligned when it comes to VNAs. Warehouse GMs can increase the capacity of their facility by nearly two-fold, continuous improvement managers can justify the investment in automation technologies, 3PL owners can recover their real estate investments faster, and inventory managers can consider one-deep case reserves with front-facing barcodes for same-day delivery commitments.
Of course, VNAs pose an operational and economic challenge for inventory counts - how can you justify using a $120,000 swing-reach truck, and its expert operator, to access tens of thousands of locations simply to scan barcodes? In the supply chain world, where cycle counts now need to be done more and more often, isn’t there a faster, better, cheaper way to count pallets, or individual items, stored one-deep in VNAs?
This is an ideal use-case where FlytWare, a fully autonomous drone inventory solution, can entirely eliminate the laborious, time-consuming effort required for cycle counts, item searches, audits and empty/full slot detection in VNAs. Featuring indoor autonomous navigation, automatic barcode scanning and reliable, affordable hardware, FlytWare can be quickly customized for specific warehouse layouts, operated through an operator-friendly user interface, and seamlessly integrated with API-enabled warehouse management systems.
Recently, FlytWare has been successfully piloted in 6-foot wide VNAs at a 3PL facility in the Dallas - Fort Worth area. With over 100 racks, each over 32 feet tall and 300 feet long - and over ten thousand locations - this ‘full pallet’ warehouse is ideally suited for deploying fleets of autonomous drones that can complete a full cycle count of all VNAs in four weeks or less - that too during off-hours or nights, keeping all aisles available for pick-and-place tasks during normal working hours.
Nitin Gupta, CEO, FlytBase, highlighted this: “Our deployment of Flytware at a very large logistics facility in Lancaster, Texas uncovered the potential benefits of autonomous drones that are cost-effective, fully autonomous, and easy to scale and integrate into existing operations and SOPs. Through these pilots, 3PLs - and in turn their customers - are validating the significant return-on-investment possible from aerial counts inventory in VNAs - thanks to the labor and equipment savings, live video feeds, location-wise images, auditable barcode data, and faster cycle counts. By moving the freed-up human resources from manual counts to higher-value activities, warehouse GMs and continuous improvement managers can immediately improve top-line and bottom-line metrics, with payback periods of less than 6 months.”
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