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Automating Your Warehouse in the Middle of a Pandemic

Ian Smith

Introduction

A common question that we’ve heard over the last year is: “Is it possible to automate our warehouse or distribution center (DC) in the middle of a pandemic?” - The answer is “Yes!” 

This hasn’t been a normal year by anyone’s definition. The change in consumer buyer habits has put more operational pressure on every link of the logistics chain. Automation is a critical tool for every warehouse management team to consider as they evolve to support the changing market demands.

“E-commerce now accounts for 16.1% of all U.S. sales, up from 11.8% in the first quarter and this trend is likely to stick, even as brick-and-mortar stores open their doors again.”

Source:  “How COVID–19 Has Transformed Consumer Spending Habits”, JP Morgan, Nov 2020


Moving With The Market

The pandemic has changed business in every segment of the economy, but the biggest impact is in the consumer goods segment. In an effort to stay safe from the COVID-19 virus, 40% more consumers intend to shift a large portion of their shopping to e-commerce according to a recent McKinsey and Co. consumer survey.


Figure 1 - Post COVID-19 Buying Trends (McKinsey and Co. | Source)

Keeping Up With Demand

Warehouse management teams struggled to hire and retain qualified labor before the pandemic, and the realities of the pandemic have put even more stress on the hiring process, while at the same time customer demand has continued to spike. New fulfillment use cases such as “buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS)” have grown in adoption during the pandemic. This puts additional pressure on fulfillment processes that couldn’t be predicted a year ago.

Altogether, warehouse managers now have to balance an even larger gap between demand and warehouse capability. Automation may be the answer.

In our article last week on the topic of Types Of Warehouse Automation And Robotics we looked at all of the various ways that a warehouse can be automated. In that article, we concluded that inventory accuracy is directly tied to customer satisfaction. Ware inventory drones can be a key solution to understanding your warehouse inventory levels in near real-time.

How Quickly Can I Automate My Inventory Counting?

In response to our customer needs for quick deployment and also with the constraints in worldwide travel, we had to learn how to do things differently this year. The solution that we arrived at, is a completely remote deployment service for Ware drones. 

We now have the capability to roll out the inventory service in a customer facility without sending any Ware field service personnel onsite. To set up the drones’ map, all we need from a client is a blueprint of the warehouse racking layout. From there, we generate a digital twin of the facility and lock in the initial automated flight plan for the drones in simulation and then ship the drone(s) and hardware to the customer site. The rest of the provisioning process happens with customer personnel onsite and our support staff remotely.

The Skydio drones that are the heart of our data collection platform are already designed to do all of the obstacle avoidance onboard, in-flight. This means that the drone won’t fly into a wall, pallet racking, or any fixture. With the initial warehouse map loaded, the Ware drone makes its maiden flight while using its onboard collision avoidance sensors to make any fine adjustments within its own real-time map of the facility. 

From that point, the process of controlling the flight path through the facility is all done in software. Our support team can easily help your staff to get everything setup and running.

Conclusion

The pandemic has forced all of us to work differently. Here at Ware, we’ve reacted quickly to the changing demands of our customers to enable them to get a Ware inventory management system up and running quickly and safely while protecting the health of our customers and our employees.