Drones for material handling in plants and warehouses

A video posted in (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG3Frwaa47E) shows the use of drones for indoor material handling being planned by Qimarox.  The video shows the benefits of using the third dimension and thus relieving the constraints of aisles for warehousing equipment.  The direct flight between points also reduces the constraints on location of kitted components. Will drones provide the productivity and flexibility demanded for light weight kitting ? Will ecommerce warehouses be potential users, particularly for cosmetics, pharma and computer components ? How will drones compete with robots and how should warehouse management systems plan to be integrated with drones for efficient order picking ?

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27 Responses to Drones for material handling in plants and warehouses

  1. Ryan P. Case says:

    This will be beneficial for warehouse automation in parallel with other robots, conveyors, and auto sorting. I don’t believe it will be a replacement due to size and payload constraints, but as a compliment it may be a viable means to utilize space (even that which may currently be difficult to utilize) inside or outside a warehouse/distribution center. This would be a great testing ground for UAV/UAS sense and avoid systems, since it appears coordination with the FAA will continue for years to come. The ability to prove UAV/UAS safety and coordination with piloted aircraft is a hot topic!

  2. Interesting! We’ve looked at UAVs outside of the warehouse in logistics, let us know what you think 🙂 http://bit.ly/1DOWaR1

  3. cpeplin21 says:

    As shown in the video, using drones for material handling allows you to take advantage of the third dimension in space that was not previously an option when using fork trucks or robots in material handling plants. Therefore, when coordinated correctly, drones would provide the productivity and flexibility demanded for light weight kitting. Drones can be programmed to fly around the warehouse just like the robots, so they will be productive enough if they have good enough battery life. Depending on the weight of the product, drones will be more flexible then robots because aisles in the warehouse can be tighter and more drones can move around at once using the third dimension of space. Ecommerce warehouses would be great potential users of drones but specifically ecommerce warehouses that deal with light products like cosmetics, pharma, and computer components. In ecommerce warehouses where some products are to heavy for drones it would be possible to run robots and drones to move products throughout the warehouse. This would largely be based on a cost analysis of running a drone vs running a robot in the warehouse and the reliability of one vs the other. Drones will not be able to replace robots unless they are able to lift bigger items efficiently. Warehouse management systems could be integrated with the drones to help program the drones where to go and what to pick up. A bare code scanner on the drone would check the item off in the system and the drone could move on to the next item.

  4. laford13 says:

    Drones will be a very useful asset for organizations to utilize to cut back on labor and increase efficiency during the loading process. I believe that these drones will be capable of maintaining an efficient productivity in the warehouses. These drones will cost less over time because organizations will be able to depreciate these assets rather than having to pay a person for all of the hours, they worked doing the same process a drone could do. The flexibility these drones are capable of having is unlike anything the current workplace has experienced. They will be able to complete any action, with the correct programming and software. People can be flexible, but there is always a moment when individuals must comprehend what is happening in order to be able to adjust to the situation. Drones on the other hand would be able to stop what they are doing and go onto the next task without missing a beat. Ecommerce warehouses are the perfect example of where these drones can be utilized. In these large open areas, it would give the drones plenty of room to fly while focusing on the lightweight products. Managers must be aware that they will not be able to eliminate all of their warehouse employees because these drones have a weight limit on what they can carry from place to place. I believe that drones and robots should both be utilized within a company to help the efficiency and productivity. They should not be seen as competitors but instead they should be used together.

  5. Adam Hupp says:

    The ability of drones to kit lightweight products largely depends on the secondary technologies that support the drone. For long-term success the gripping mechanism must be capable of lifting many types of objects of varying dimensions and shapes. Also, the software the determines how packages are stacked must be able to consider varying shapes and the strength of the items being stacked. It is also possible that broadband and processing speeds are not yet capable of performing these calculations at a large scale. However, this may be significantly improved with the advent of 5G spectrum. The listed component categories (cosmetics, etc.) are likely candidates because of their small size and weight.

    A combination of drones and ground-based robotics would allow for the greatest utilization of space. Robots might focus on assembling and disassembling tasks, whereas drones could focus on point-to-point transportation. A robust warehouse management system would be required to ensure that all machines are operating on the same platform. The robots and drones would work most effectively when they have direct access to inventory data.

  6. Zihan Lin says:

    From my perspective, the benefits of drone are becoming more and more outstanding. The different view of the drone brings new angle of the warehouse inspection. Also, the other functions which carry by the drone extend the utilization possibility. The lightweight kitting has already realized in nowadays industry and definitely increase the productivity. The ecommerce warehouses will be the potential users especially for cosmetics and computer components. Products from these industries are various and elaborated. Compared with the robots, drone has shorter route of delivery. Drone and robot could combine as a new system. Robot is easier to drag the product and drone can deliver the product to make this process faster.

  7. Yuchen Zhang says:

    Drones will provide the productivity and flexibility demanded for light weight kitting. They will reduce the labor cost associated with the warehouse. They are extremely accurate to navigate and can be flexibly programmed. However, the productivity is still depending on the battery range. Finding an efficient way to changeover drones or battery is the key to increase productivity. Ecommerce warehouses can be the potential users but still a long way to go. All the drones generate heat and strong wind, which are not good for lightweight or temperature sensitive cargos.
    Drones should work with robots. For example, drones can be the eyes of the robots, directing them to move cargos. To better integrated with drones for efficient order picking, the warehouse management system should have an algorithm to arrange the route and cargos based on warehouse layout, battery range, temperature, cargo weight and other parameters. The warehouse should also have a dedicated automated battery swapping area to minimize charging time.

  8. Szu Han Huang says:

    Drones may be a useful too for the warehouse management recently. First, it can help the labors to pick up or loading the package which is hard to reach in the warehouse. By doing so, it can make the process more efficient and even enhance the capacity of the warehouse that the space of warehouse is completely used. The difference between it and robot is the former requires the human to manipulate. However, it can be effectively monitored by human beings as well. I think it will be more functional if it is integrate with some ERP system, for example, it will greatly helpful for the labors to do the inventory management if the drones can help scan the barcode and transfer the data to the system.

  9. zhixinli says:

    Drones allow the space in warehouses can be used more effectively, and drones are good at carrying small size products, thus provide the productivity and flexibility demanded for light weighted kitting. E-commerce warehouses can be potential users of drones. However, it may depend on the scale of the business. Large businesses like Amazon would benefit the most from this strategy because their warehouses and plants process tons of products every day. Keeping the entire process running more efficiently means faster delivery of products to customers, thus creating more revenue. Small businesses usually face smaller demand. Therefore, there is no needs to purchase drones to manage warehouses. Drones are aerial vehicles and robots are ground vehicle, drones do not necessarily need to compete with robots, adopting both drones and robots allows them to effectively assist each other. Warehouses need certain software to constantly monitor the performance of drones and robots in order to track real-time information.

  10. Rustam Kalimzhanov says:

    In my opinion, humanity is moving rapidly towards complete automation of supply chains. Many large companies are currently developing projects in this area. For example, Amazon’s Prime Air program aims to develop a system for the delivery of goods by no human pilot drones to its customer. The movement of goods within warehouses will also not be left out. Fast, low-cost drones will certainly be of great benefit when loading trucks or sorting goods. In my opinion, this technology can be used for sorting and loading in warehouses, including for cosmetics, pharma and computer components. Drones and robots can be part of the same system. Ground-based repetitive actions can be performed by robots, and air transportation can be performed by drones. For example, robots can perform tasks related to unloading goods from a truck and transferring it to a conveyor, and drones can unload goods from conveyors and form collective orders into pallets. However, for such a system to work productively and efficiently, a significant investment of time, human labor, and financial resources are required. Definitely, developing software and technology, as well as, integrating and testing of complex system are tricky tasks to complete in the near future.

  11. Matt Wright says:

    Drones utilize something that most other robots do not: all 3 dimensions. Many robots operate only on the ground, but drones allow for more efficient use of space by utilizing the air. E-commerce warehouses will be potential users for the equipment, but drones must be prepared to handle different kinds of packaging they encounter. The greater variety in package shape and size will provide challenges, therefore applications where packaging tends to be more standard will be better served by drones. Additionally, there are constraints on package weight which must be considered as well. As with all technology, it does posses certain advantage over traditional human labor. Robots of all types require a significant upfront investment, but do not incur expenses that come even close to employee wages. There are often different physical restraints with a robot, however they differ from that of a human worker, and robots do not have to worry about ergonomics. In order to prepare for the integration of drones, firms should ensure that they collect data on package size, material, and weight in order to ensure it can be served by the drone.

  12. nguye685 says:

    Comparing to robots, drones have superior flexibility and productivity demanded for light weight kitting. First of all, drones are able to cover three dimensions, and fly at different heights. This helps drones to be a perfect candidate for light weight kitting. Secondly, drones provide faster speed comparing to robots that travel on the ground. Lastly, combination of robots and drones can provide continuous shipping and avoid dead head that coordinate the line haul and back haul to minimize cost and maximize productivity and efficiency. E-commerce warehouses can be potential users, particularly for cosmetics, pharma, and computer components because these components require high accuracy and do not require heavy load which is perfect for the use of drones. Drones do not necessarily need to compete with robots, on the other hand,warehouse management systems can plan to be integrated with drones combining with robots for efficient order picking. Which means, robots will handle the heavy loads on the ground for big packages and larger orders. At the same time, drones will handle sorting and pick order from different locations of the warehouses from a higher layer in order to fulfill boxes that will then be transported by robots on the ground.

  13. Zhewei Tao says:

    Based on the content from the video, we can see the drones can provide point to point material handling service in a well organized and highly efficient order. Also, each drone can complete the job in a timely manner as well. Under this circumstance, I believe the direct flights can provide more productivity and more flexibility since the transportation time can be reduced and multiple models and types of drones can be used in the warehouse. Because of the natural of the drone handling, it will be a great idea for ecommerce warehouse to gradually adapt the drone handling method since the ecommerce are usually selling variety of goods with different sizes and weights. They need some flexible drones to carry those types of goods in an efficient way. Since the cost of using and maintaining drones ere not given in the video, it is hard to say the cost comparison between drones and robots. I would like to say that if companies can find a good combination and balance between the usages of drones and robots and thus the total productivity of the workload can be better increased.

  14. tiandai says:

    I think the application of drones to warehouse management systems, especially the sorting of light goods, can indeed improve efficiency and productivity. As shown in the video, compared to traditional manual or robot working methods, the advantage of drones is that they can make the most of three-dimensional space. Nevertheless, I think there may be some problems. First of all, in order to cooperate with the use of drones, the packaging of goods may have to be redesigned to ensure that they can be identified by the machine. The power and load capacity of drones are limited, even for light objects. At the same time, because the sorted items are mainly cosmetics, computer components, etc., which are light-weight but high-value commodities, this also places higher requirements on the accuracy and reliability of the drone. In addition, the integration of drones and their supporting systems is very expensive, and companies are likely to be prepared for no return in the short term.

  15. Robert Waggoner says:

    The use of drones for indoor material handling can create a plethora of opportunities for companies looking to reduce overhead costs and improve efficiencies throughout the process.
    Some issues that may rise with drones are their ability to maneuver a large assortment of packages. In order for a drones to pick and sort packages, the package must be under a certain weight capacity as well as size. Because of this, drones are somewhat limited. However, some companies focused on products like cosmetics, pharma, or computer components may have small, lightweight items that need to be sorted or arranged, which can offer opportunities for drones to be implemented.

    Material handling however, should not solely focus on the ability of drones. Robotics, self-operating conveyers and sorters, as well as other A.I. induced equipment should be utilized. All of these items can help speed up processes and reduce mistakes if used in unity. .

  16. Jorge Chamorro says:

    I think drones can provide the necessary flexibility for ecommerce operations. However, there seems to be higher coordination complexity as compared to robots. I believe a warehouse equipped with both robots and drones can provide greater flexibility, provided that it is cost competitive to have both. One advantage of the drones over the robots is the capacity of the drone to only move the item needed, but this require the item to be available at the top of the stack. Hence, the product stacking should have a different configuration when using drones.

  17. lvargass says:

    It’s true that advances in technology are now contributing in areas such as material handling relieving constraints of aisle in warehousing, but would this really provide more productivity and flexibility? Companies who had been testing this kind of drones has come to realized that drones’ vision of inventory might be limited when it comes to see from beside or above racks. But one of the labors and cost issues that warehouses faced could be addressed in a more effective way by drones, which is the need from humans to conduct physical inventory.
    I believe that ecommerce will be definitely migrating on the direction of using more and more this kind of technology, since they have a high numbers of small size orders, it important to have tools that can provide high accuracy.
    On the other hand, I don’t think that drones will completely replace the use or robots, since there is a size and weight limitation for drones. It’s more likely that both technologies would be used altogether

  18. Shrey Bansal says:

    Drones can perform some warehouse operations such as cycle counting, stock counting, and inventory management really well. Drones are far more time and energy efficient than humans and forklift trucks when it comes to repetitive barcode or RFID scanning operations, using a barcode scanner, drones can perform scanning with relative ease. But in order to make drones perform effective picking and sorting operations, there are certain limitations like product weight, and size. It can be said that in case of light weight kitting, drones could provide productivity and flexibility. Also, e-commerce warehouses could be the potential users of drones, particularly for lightweight items like cosmetics, pharma and computer components. There seems no need of drones to complete with robots, both can be used together for more efficient warehouse management. Robots can perform heavy load picking on ground, on the other hand drones can utilize aerial route to pick items distributed all over the warehouse from top aisles and put on the pallets or the delivery boxes.

  19. Vincent Coltellino says:

    As others mentioned, drones are being looked at by many companies for use in their supply chains. I had never heard anyone talk about indoor use until this video, but it seems more reasonable to implement than all of the outdoor applications (delivery, etc.) that we hear of frequently in the news. Outdoor use requires a lot of regulatory adjustments, specifically with the FAA, while the indoor use would require the companies to cut through less red tape. Another thing to consider is the energy consumption. There are many amazing technologies that are not put into practice because they are so energy intensive and cost a lot to operate. I imagine this would be true for drone. It takes a lot of energy to get an object off the ground, hence the high fuel consumption in aircraft.

  20. Antoine Minier says:

    Drone would provide a very strong increase in productivity in the handling of light weight kiting. It is obvious that when this technology will be mature enough, its implementation will cut down costs significantly and also improve efficiency.
    I feel that Ecommerce is definitely a target customers for those kind of applications because a warehouse provide ideal conditions for drones. Indeed it is protected from bad weather, it is a closed environment and there is access to energy to charge those drones. However, those drones will be limited by the charge they can carry. Therefore they should focus on light items.
    Robot are probably slower but there are capable to carry heavier products. Therefore, they should be used to deal with those items. However, a drone is much faster but as a limit in what it can carry. By mixing bot technology, you would obtain probably the most efficiency in your operations. However, the costs of implementation of both technology in one warehouse would be probably a break and would potentially not make economical sense. When those two technologies will be mature enough, cost will go down and therefore it will be much easier to implement them in all warehouses.

  21. Haowei Lai says:

    From the video, undoubtedly, drones will provide productivity and flexibility for light weight kitting. By utilizing air space, a capability that humans can’t yet adopt, drones can be much more productive and flexible when enclosed in limited space.

    E-commerce is a big field where drone logistic can be applied to. For smaller and higher value products like cosmetics, drugs, and electrical components, drones can be more effective towards the end of the supply chain where products are shipped with variance of SKUs in the package to the consumers.

    Drones and robots will serve different parts of the supply chain. As robots may serve better at the beginning, drones may serve better at the end. This is because at the upstream, products tends to be in large quantity and runs a rather set path. While downstream products are more retail orientated and are reaching more destinations. With drones, warehouse management can utilize air space and design more compact operation space to reduce cost.

  22. Sheng Yu says:

    First of all, drones are developing and we now see great potential in them working in warehouses and provide transportation options for lightweight objects. However, will the cost of multiple drones to compete with moving belt is another question. Assuming the case where drones are believed to be helpful – picking smaller items from inventory and send them onto the packaging station. Drones need to land on the objects to pick them up meaning all objects would be stored on an open area with nothing covering them – at the current stage, I don’t think drones would be able to fly into narrow spaces. This means no stacking of different skus and no shelf – impossible for current warehouse utilization. Also considering drone flying point to point – they would not beat the belt system if the belt system is carefully designed, not to mention the cost for drones are still higher than the belt system. In general, I believe without a significant improvement in drones – especially on their flexibility in narrow and dark space and stability when coordinating with other drones, robots and belts are still by far the easiest and cheapest solution for the warehouse.

  23. yujintao says:

    From my perspective, I highly doubt whether using drones in the warehouse can increasing the productivity and flexibility because as we can see from the video, drones can only deal with light weight products, which has already limited their usable range. Besides, direct flight between points is not as easy as it seems like because their routes cross with each other. If they meet, one of them need to wait to avoid crashing, which requires more functions with drones like auto sensing and may increase the overall processing time.
    For ecommerce business, using drones can be a potential way to improve their performance because their products fit the requirement of using drones and most of their orders are online so that the information can be dealt with inside the system and drones can take the products automatically and accurately according to the order without checking. But, products need to be taken off the shelf before drones take them to the plate. If we use people to finish this process, it’s meaningless to use drones afterwards because all the order information has already been proceeded by people and they can finish the left process fast and accurately. If we use automatic way to finish this process, those companies need to spend more money in building automatic warehouse and this is not a choice for me just to add drones in the final step.
    The largest advantage drones have compared with robots is that they are more cheap and focused on the single, useful function. In this case, all we want is to send the products from the conveyor to the plate. Drones can finish this job fast but robots are too slow and need more space. For the management system, I think it might be great if drones can deal with complex orders which contains too many single products and might be confused by human. It might also be more efficient if all the outbound process are automatically.

  24. Zi Wang says:

    I think the most amazing thing is that drones are able to make use of the third dimension, which comes to the air. In daily life, people may face traffic jams from time to time and they wish their car could fly. In order to relieve the pressure of traffic, people build the overpass and higher track for the bus. Drones are what gather these benefits above and won’t interfere with the existed warehouse activities. After having drones, people or equipment on the floor can focus on doing more heavyweight stuff, while drones take care of those light things. On the other hand, drones itself can finish the whole process of up-down especially for those higher shelves which bring more productivity.
    E-commerce warehouses fit well for industries such as cosmetics, pharma, and computer components, because they have mostly small-sized products but with a wide variety. Drones can sort out from different shelves more efficiently.
    I think robots seem to be more intelligent and they can do much more than “moving” things as for drones. Thus drones need to magnify its advantage in the air. It’s important to make sure drones can operate reliably with a more complete route design. For example, if a drone crashes, people need to consider whether other operations would be greatly impacted.

  25. Mengwei Li says:

    Drones definitely will provide the productivity and flexibility demanded for light weight kitting. This is a revolution for the development of our society. However, we will also needs human to get involved and manage all the drones. It will decrease labor costs but will also increase other costs such as maintenance and repair. The low end labor and high end labor are different as well.
    Ecommerce warehouses will be potential users, particularly for cosmetics, pharma and computer components whenever it can make the whole process more efficiency.
    Comparing with robots, drones will save more space since they are point to point delivery and in transit from the air rather than from the land. But drones will be more applicable for light weight goods. In general, drones are attached to a larger space craft and designed to expand the ship’s launching capabilities.

  26. Karun Nambiar Manikoth says:

    Yes, drones will provide the productivity and flexibility required for light weight kitting, with their ability to carry small size products and opening up warehouse space to be used more effectively. However, factors to consider will be product size, shape and weight, aside from effective coordination required to operate the drones.

    E-commerce warehouses are surely potential users, particularly, and arguably specifically for cosmetics, pharma and computer components, because the products tend to be on the smaller and lighter range, which allows for drone use.

    Robots still have the advantage of being able to pick larger, heavier things than drones can, which gives robots the competitive edge. However, in time, once drones are equipped to pick large, heavy items, this notion will change. Warehouse management systems should integrate with drones via use of ERP systems, data collection systems and bar code scanning for efficient and quick order picking.

  27. chizhang says:

    From my perspective, using drones for kitting can not only increase the productivity and flexibility but also reduce errors and cost for training new employees. To compare with human, drones just new correct coding then them can work for thousands time without any mistake and drone don’t need time for training, however, human needs enough time of training to be familiar with the work and the longer them work the more possibilities them will make mistake. On the other hand, comparing with robots, drones can use the advantage of the ability to use the third dimension and cheaper cost for each unit. The number robots of Each warehouse can accommodate is much smaller than the drones, robots like AGV which uses wire guidance or magnetic tape only can move only certain routes and they cannot operate too much together due to traffic in no the road. But Drones can use the third dimension which has no limit of route and traffic which will make a huge difference when facing a lot of orders in a short time.

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