Drone Technology Improves Warehouse Performance
An innovative drone-based technology solution enables Romark Logistics to automate pallet counts and offer inventory analytics and insights to its customers.
After restructuring a customer distribution center in Lancaster, Texas, to use very narrow aisle (VNA) racking, substantially improving space utilization, Romark Logistics, a nationwide third-party logistics (3PL) and cold-chain provider serving food, beverage, pharmaceutical, commodities, and retail customers, had to address a challenge that comes with 6-foot VNAs: manual counts of the warehoused inventory, containing full pallets with front-facing barcodes, stored one-deep in the VNA racks.
These counts are labor-intensive and time-consuming, tying up both people and equipment that could otherwise do picks/putaways or shipping/receiving.
Romark's continuous improvement and innovation team had been looking for technology solutions that could automate the pallet counts, without disrupting inventory operations.
After evaluating various options, autonomous drones stood out as the best automation technology for inventory counts and associated use-cases such as empty bin audits. The use of airspace didn't affect ground operations, and the ability to read barcodes helped avoid new (potentially wasteful) investments in RFID tags.
The 3PL provider contacted FlytBase, an enterprise drone software company, which successfully deployed proof-of-concept indoor autonomous navigation in late 2019. It provided Romark an opportunity to see the operator dashboard in action, determine the accuracy of barcode detection, and share expectations with respect to WMS integration and data comparison.
Continuous interactions with the warehouse operations, inventory, IT, and innovation teams during the proof-of-concept also unveiled adjacent use-cases for FlytWare, such as empty bin audits, putaway audits, and aerial scans of bulk storage.
The solution also met important criteria such as ensuring the safety and security of Romark's warehouse workers. It was to function safely in an active warehouse environment and not disrupt the workflow.
Not only were the FlytWare drones required to fly autonomously and scan barcodes automatically, but Romark also wanted precise landing/takeoff, autonomous battery charging, comparison with WMS data, and fleet operations management to also be fully automated, for a scalable solution.
With more than one dozen large DCs across the United States, Romark looks forward to scaling autonomous drone deployments beyond the Lancaster warehouse. In fact, using the cloud-connected FlytWare dashboard—as a centralized access point to plan and oversee inventory counting operations across multiple warehouses—will enable Romark to offer inventory analytics and insights to its customers.
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