48 hour automated drone inventory at FIEGE

FIEGE automates the warehouse inventory in the multi-user center Emmerich with inventAIRy® XL

Ten years ago, the term “Industry 4.0” was used in the first keynotes, heralding the digitization and automation of industrial processes - including in logistics. Even after a few years in the digital age, many work steps in the warehouse remain highly manual due to process, time or cost-related reasons. Digital products and services have to adapt to this cost- and time-sensitive environment and have to prove themselves again and again, especially in intralogistics.

In particular in sensitive areas such as food or pharmaceutical logistics, but also for warehouses with very high turnover rates. Shortages and idle times, which arise due to inaccurate inventory data and the associated search processes, lead to avoidable costs. Better data quality through regular automated inventory can minimize these costs. At the same time, digital and automated inventory means: Relief of employees from monotonous, non-value-adding activities and new potential for using these freed-up resources in a value-adding way.

With inventAIRy® XL, doks. innovation has chosen an approach that combines a ground vehicle with a drone and thus enables complete automation of the inventory with minimal intervention in the warehouse infrastructure. The drone-based inventory system can scan stocks continuously for up to five hours and automatically return to its charging station. A fully automated inventory overnight is possible. Additional infrastructure for navigation is not necessary. Everything works like the vacuum cleaner at home: all you need is a socket for the base station.

The requirements for a key date inventory are somewhat more complex. There, tens of thousands of pallets and their storage locations have to be processed within a fixed time frame. For this, the parallel use of several automatic inventory systems is necessary. Together with FIEGE, doks. carried out a proof of concept for an inventory within 48 hours. For two days and nights, five inventAIRy XL systems automatically scanned 30,000 pallet labels and assigned them to the corresponding storage space.

Developed to customer needs

The doks. team had already presented its predecessor system inventAIRy to the FIEGE innovation department in 2018. At that time, the Kassel-based start-up was still relying on a purely drone-based solution, the weakness of which quickly became apparent in the warehouse. “The multicopter only allowed very short flight times. In addition, the flying object had to be moved manually between the aisles,” remembers Felix Koch, Logistics Consultant at FIEGE.

The other users of the first generation of inventory drones also shared this assessment. The doks. product team then said goodbye to building the UAV itself and is concentrating on optimizing navigation, sensors and software. Julian Wyszynski, Product Manager inventAIRy XL, explains: “In the tightly-timed day-to-day operations in the warehouse, nothing less than complete automation is accepted and the warehouse managers want to use the idle times at night and on weekends for inventories, but also let the systems run in parallel."

Five hours of continuous operation and autonomous navigation

With inventAIRy XL, the Kassel team has succeeded in bringing an unique solution onto the market: An Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) takes over the navigation and supplies the drone with the necessary energy for up to six hours. The charging station is installed in the warehouse in such a way that it can remain in place permanently.

Automatic inventory of 30,000 spaces

The proof of concept went as follows: For the inventory of the warehouse in Emmerich with 30,000 pallet spaces, only three people worked on site in several shifts. The systems were merely observed and the visual verification of the data on the PC was started in parallel - a task in which the deviations are usually checked again manually with a clipboard and list in the warehouse. The drones scan the pallets independently. The difference in effort is considerable. “Normally, we need a significant amount of staff for inventory. This is an immense organizational effort, especially at the moment with the strict hygiene regulations,” says Stefanie Weßing, Lean Manager at the FIEGE Emmerich branch and responsible for the Consumer Goods division. The inventAIRy XL systems scan the data on the pallet labels with the built-in barcode scanner. The information contained there is processed immediately and compared with the target status from the warehouse management system. With the help of the image data of the Camera, which is built into the automatic inventory system in addition to three barcode scanners, this comparison can take place without another employee having to go to the warehouse.

Based on the experiences from the proof of concept, the final adjustments are now being made in order to create a solution for a drone-based annual inventory that is accepted by auditors.