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Warehouse Webinars

Why Warehouse Drones are a BAD IDEA

During our first 5 years, Vimaan flew more warehouse drone missions than any other solution provider in North America. After recording countless hours of warehouse flights, Vimaan made the easy decision to pivot away from drone technology in the warehouse. Watch this webinar to learn about the technical limitations of warehouse drones and why they will never be able to provide fully autonomous cycle counting tasks for warehouses and distribution centers.

White Papers, Starter Guides and Technical Notes

Warehouse Receiving
Automation Guide

Relying solely on labor to ensure accurate and fast warehouse receiving is a challenge for most 3PLs, DCs and Brands.

Cycle Counting
Automation Guide

Automated cycle counts enable warehouses to maintain optimal inventory levels, reducing shrinkage and overstock.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) Compliancy White Paper

SOX mandates that CEOs and other company leaders certify financials including inventory accuracy.

Introduction to Warehouse Computer Vision

Getting started guide details how warehouse CVML works and how it reduces dependency on costly labor.

The Problem with Warehouse Drones Technical Note

Detailed exploration of the shortcomings of warehouse drone technology and how it falls short of meeting expectations.

Reverse Logistics
Automation Guide

How computer vision is used to improve the tracking and processing of returned goods in busy warehouses.

Thank you for joining today’s webinar, why Warehouse Drones are a Bad Idea. This is part of our 22 Minute Warehouse webinar series. Out of respect for everyone’s time and to make sure we only focus on what’s important, we try to keep these webinars at 22 minutes or less. My name is Craig Dowley and I will be your presenter today. I’ve also invited a very special guest, aeronautical and aerospace expert, Deepak Kari, to discuss the problematic engineering and physics shortcomings of warehouse drones and how they operate in the warehouse. If you have any questions throughout the webinar, please feel free to submit them as we go along and we’ll try to get to as many as possible at the end of the session. S

So what’s the interest in this topic based on the companies you all registered from? I imagine that you’re all here for a few different reasons.

  1. Number one, you’ve heard about warehouse drones and you’re just curious as to what the buzz is all about and how they operate in a warehouse.
  2. Number two, you probably already know how they operate in the warehouse. You’ve been using warehouse drones already and you’re considering switching away. You understand these pains and looking for other alternatives.
  3. Number three, you’re simply looking for alternatives to warehouse drones and better ways to automate cycle counting in the warehouse.
  4. And lastly, you might be a solution drone provider for warehouses, and you’re interested to see how much of the truth comes out during this session. Now at Vimaan, as our tagline implies the truth is here, we’re here to disclose all the benefits and challenges that warehouses experiencing when operating drones in their facilities.

    So what makes us a qualified source of this assessment? Well, Vimaan was one of the very first companies to provide drones for warehouses several years ago. In fact, Vimaan flew more missions than any other North American drone provider from 2018 to 2023. We have collected countless hours of data that detail both the benefits and pains associated with operating drones in a warehouse. Needless to say, based on this data, we have been switching our customers away from drones ever since.

    Let’s ground ourselves first before we go any further. What is the promise of warehouse drones and what is the value add they’re meant to provide to warehouses? The intent of warehouse drones is to make cycle counting easier and more efficient, especially when it comes to reaching goods on high shelves. As we know, cycle counting is a low skilled yet time consuming task. The primary goal for most warehouses when it comes to deploying warehouse drones is to reduce the dependency on labor for cycle counting, while maintaining or even increasing inventory accuracy. And ultimately, warehouses are looking to reduce their expenses all at the same time. Warehouse drones are often referred to as autonomous, and what that implies is that you need fewer workers or less workers to perform these tasks. But is that realistic? Are drones truly autonomous? Let’s get into this further.

    Usually the top drawback to warehouse drones is the limited lifespan of a drone charge. Warehouse drone solution providers are very upfront. There’s no hiding it. Drone batteries cannot last longer than 20 minutes, oftentimes less. This is like having your cycle counters go on break three times an hour, but unfortunately, when it comes to warehouse drones, nobody’s going on break because to get the drones back up and running, batteries need to be swapped and recharged, reducing the hopes of cutting dependencies on labor. These types of activities simply don’t happen by themselves.

    As I mentioned, drone providers are very upfront about these shortcomings, and if a warehouse is looking for more continuous cycle counting missions, the responses are all the same across the industry. Just buy more. Now, just imagine the amount of workers that would take keeping a small fleet of drones in the year. The more drones you buy, the more dependency you’ll have on your workforce.

    Can you imagine if Elon Musk suggested this having extra Teslas on hand when your batteries eventually die?

    So how does Vimaan handle this? We launched our new cycle count automation solutions StorTRACK to address this problem head on. Instead of a 20 minute battery life, a StorTRACK charge can last up to eight hours covering an entire shift, providing a 24 time longer uninterrupted cycle count time for the warehouse. This is handled by using existing forklifts picks StorTRACK up just like it’s a pallet and easily scans large areas of your warehouse, if not the entire thing during one shift.

    Okay, another drawback you won’t hear drone providers talk about is the limited field of use drones possess because they can only carry small cameras. Drones typically will not have a field of view much larger than one foot. This small field of view contributes to very slow scanning, especially for densely packed areas. Combine the slow scanning with small battery lives. Very little of your warehouse can be captured in a given time. To put this to context or coverage terms, if you have a 300 foot long by 30 foot high aisle that you need to scan, a drone will take over five hours to adequately scan this aisle. Compared to StorTRACK, this aisle would be completed in under an hour. Now one way of improving the field of view issues with drones is to simply move them back from the racks. This way, the field of view gets wider, but resolution is lost, contributing to low read rates. So this larger field of view has limited value when capturing inventory data.

Now on the other hand, StorTRACK has a field of view four times a larger than a drone, allowing it to capture an entire pallet in just one pass. And it doesn’t matter how many items are in the pallet or the shelf store track can scan 50 items, a hundred items just as fast as it can scan one.

Many of our users are making plans to embrace more autonomous lights out operations, and we’re often asked how StorTRACK would work in these environments. As mentioned, StorTRACK works with any MHE that can lift pallets, and these include autonomous forklifts. StorTRACK is a future-proof solution for safe autonomous cycle counting when paired with all the major autonomous forklift manufacturers. And when it comes to data capture, most drones are just flying barcode readers and if there’s other inventory information you would like to capture like text damage quantities, they can. In most cases, drones only provide you with half the picture of your rack contents as opposed to store track. Along with barcodes, the system can read anything at work. Again, using our optical character recognition technology or OCR store track can read and decipher any text that’s important to you and including SKUs, dates, serial numbers and more. It can also recognize logos, graphics, warning labels, and even call out damages to goods

Before a drone is launched. Warehouse aisles need to be cleared of any obstacles and that includes forklifts, order pickers, even your workers taking away the autonomous nature of warehouse drones. This is just another task workers must take on before enduring drone missions aisles need to be cleared and drones need to be supervised.

Before we get to our special guests, let’s review the tasks required of warehouse workers in order to make sure drones operate drones do not simply wake up and proceed to the destination on their own. Simply that’s not reality. Drone warehouses need to be cognizant that they have a lithium battery prick flying 30 feet in the air. You’ll always need to make sure someone is on hand when that drone comes crashing to the ground and they do. Meanwhile, StorTRACK requires just one person, the MHE operator, nobody else. If a warehouse is utilizing two or more cycle counters, then the return on investment for StorTRACK will be achieved in less than a year.

Okay, I’m now going to turn it over to our very special guest, Deepak Katri Deepak possesses advanced degrees in the field of aerospace and aeronautics and has spent the last four and a half years studying drones performance in warehouse settings

Firstly, thanks for the generous introduction, Craig. Hi everyone. We’re talking about drones. I think all of you have had the exposure to drones or unmanned aerial vehicles in some form. The physics behind these are very simple. The basic building block is a lift generating device lift being the upward force to counteract the weight of the drone.

Most conventional drones use a combination of rotating propellors or rotors to generate the lift and control the direction of the drone. These rotors spin at very high rates generating what we call uplfift. Think of them as tiny to arrows sucking in the air from the sides and above and accelerating them downwards with a very high speed. It is these rotors that pose a massive safety risk, sucking in objects from all around the vicinity of the drone, making drone flight unstable, especially in a warehouse setting with densely packed objects hanging shrink wrap operators and heavy machinery like forklifts.

Let me show you an example of a drone operating in a warehouse. Observe the drone traveling backwards when it suddenly encounters a tiny string wrap hardly visible to the naked eye, causing you to lose control and fall out of the sky.

Thank you, Deepak. That was excellent. I really appreciate it. Now we had a few questions come in during the session. First one, does StorTRACK work for all forklifts?

Yes, absolutely. Viman has performed extensive research on various MHEs used in variety of warehouses and designed StorTRACK to be a plug and play device where a forklift can pick up StorTRACK just like it picks up any pallet and start using it to capture inventory. Rest assured, if you need inventory cycle counting, you need store rack.

This could be a quick one for you, Deepak. Why would drones have such short battery lives?

Oh yes. The answer lies in power consumption. As I touched upon in the earlier topic, drones use rotors which consume a massive amount of power to operate an order of magnitude higher than what StorTRACK does over 10 x. This coupled with a complex aerodynamic battery mass relationship of a drone severely limits its battery life.

I think this is a good one to end with. Deepak. Everybody should be concerned with return performance. Based on your experience with drones, how does StorTRACK appear to drones from a return on investment standpoint?

Given the vast size of warehouses and the gigantic capture area that has to be covered? Coupled with the small field of view of the drone, it could take a drone setup anywhere between eight to 10 drones to meet the SLA and add to it the operational and maintenance costs. This results in an extended ROI of 18 to 24 months if one is lucky. Store track in contrast, just needs one system and one operator with an ROI of six to eight months.

Thank you, Deepak. Appreciate you taking the time to answer those questions from the audience. Let’s sum up what we’ve covered today. First off, let’s give drones their due. They can indeed fly and reach high shelves easier than your unassisted workers can on the ground. But as we discussed, the concept of an autonomous drone is not grounded in reality.

Your warehouse labor does quite a bit to keep these drones flying safely in the air. Lithium-ion batteries pack tremendous amounts of energy and power in a very small form. When drones fail and fall hard to the floor, this can cause fires. The idea of drones being part of a lights out warehouse is not a reality.

And speaking of batteries, the 20 minute or less lifespan of a battery creates more work field labor and the idea of simply deploying more drones creates even more work for them. You may actually have to hire more labor to support such an endeavor, and as Deepak covered warehouses can be a very inhospitable environment for warehouse drones. Any loose materials such as shrink wrap or packing tape will get sucked into the rotors disabling and even harming the drone.

We took all these lessons learned into account where we built StorTRACK a much more reliable and less labored intensive form of automated cycle county.

Okay, let’s take a quantitative look at how warehouse drones compare with StorTRACK . First off, we’ll start with battery charge life. As discussed drones, battery charges don’t last more than 20 minutes. Compared to StorTRACK lasts up to eight hours. Field of view for a drone is one foot compared to the field of view. StorTRACK is four times larger. To scan a 300 long, 30 foot high aisle, drones would take over 330 minutes and store track takes under an hour.

Yes, aisles need to be cleared for drones to their functions and StorTRACK can perform its functions alongside existing processes. The requirement for shelves to be clean and pristine and clear of any debris. Yes, drones require a clean, pristine environment. Otherwise things will get stuck in the rotors. StorTRACK can work in some of the more hostile warehouse environments. Future-proof for lights out warehouse. No drones cannot work in a lights out warehouse. They need to be constantly monitored. Otherwise, there is risk of damage to inventory due to lithium-ion issues, et cetera. And StorTRACK can work alongside work with autonomous forklifts in a very safe lights out warehouse environment. Do the requirement for workers to support continuous cycle counting approximately three to four workers for drones.

As promised, we want to be respectful of your time and bring the webinar to a close. We hope that you found the presentation informative and that we may have addressed some of the burning questions that you’ve had regarding warehouse drones. After flying more warehouse drone missions from 2018 to 2023, we accumulated more data during this time than any other North American solution provider. Drones are enjoyable devices for short-term recreational use, but they are not a good fit for inside dynamic environments like warehouses. There are far too many downsides to the use of the technology and they’re a safer and more efficient cycle.

If you have any other questions, we want to welcome you to reach out to myself or Deepak. We’d be more than happy to assist you in any way. This brings our webinar to our close. I want to thank you all for joining us today.

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