Shipping and logistics giant Maersk deploys automated drones for warehouse inventories

Maersk drones inventory

Global shipping, ground transport, and logistics giant Maersk is tackling the problem of getting accurate, continually updated data from its warehouse inventories by swapping one of the weak links in that process – the easily distracted attention of humans – with the laser-focused, unperturbable eyes of automated drones.

Maersk has adopted autonomous drones to take stock of inventories in four of the hundreds of warehouses in which it stores supplies being hauled by its ships and trucks around the globe. That small number of facilities located in North America, however, is just the beginning of a wider rollout of UAVs planned for 2023 as the company seeks to improve the constant process of accounting for the goods it transports every day.

Though Maersk itself is too diplomatic to say so as such, a big reason it’s turning to drones and onboard sensors for inventories is because tech tends to work better than human auditors undertaking the repetitive and thankless work of squinting at countless labels on pallets stacked roof high.

For starters, drones don’t need ladders or scaffolding to scan bar codes off each parcel stored in Maersk warehouses – a fact that also makes the process safer by eliminating the risk of falls. Meanwhile, automated UAVs aren’t as inclined to getting bored, becoming distracted by trespassing birds, or checking their smartphones constantly to see if their cyber currency investments are still tanking.

Meanwhile, the company notes in a communique on its aerial innovation that while inventory management is one of the most important barometers for supply chain flow, financial cost exposure, and business decision-making, it’s also “the most difficult, repetitive, and tedious tasks to perform consistently in warehouses, with quality of data often questioned.” 

ReadAutonomous drones transform warehouse drudgery [Video] 

In order to keep its inventory house in order, therefore, Maersk called in warehouse drone specialist Verity to deploy its automated UAVs to keep track of the in- and outflows, part of what’s expected to be a widening introduction of the craft across its global network. The company used and analyzed the system for nearly six months before revealing it this week.

“As a supply chain integrator, we are constantly looking for new innovations and engineering solutions in our warehouse operations,” explains Maersk senior vice president of innovation and strategic growth for North America, Erez Agmoni. “We wanted to deploy a safer, more accurate, data-driven inventory solution that addressed our decarbonization goals for customers, and prevented our workforce from working at heights. Verity’s system has delivered data accuracy, safety and speed which makes our warehouse management system stronger, faster, and more effective for customer decision-making.”

Verity’s automated drone fleets can be operated at nights or on weekends when warehouse traffic is reduced. They also rotate between scanning barcodes that are fed into the Maersk system to detect omissions or repetitions, and returning to docks for recharging. 

Agmoni says initial results of the system have provided valuable insights drawn from an easy-to-use data dashboard that can be shared via cloud with a wider range of managers to produced improved analytics across the wider supply chain.

“We view the Verity solution as an important differentiator to make our customers more competitive through higher quality, faster inventory data,” he said.

Photo: Chuttersnap/Unsplash

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