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  May 24th, 2023 | Written by

Gather AI & Barrett Distribution on the Many Benefits of Drone-Powered Inventory Monitoring for Warehouses

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According to Interact Analysis, an industry research firm, there will be 214,000 warehouses globally by 2027, up from 163,000 in 2021. Having accurate inventory is critical for these warehouses. Accurate inventory ensures that there are no unexpected shortages, shipments are fulfilled on time, and the warehouse space is fully utilized. 

Today having accurate inventory in a warehouse can be difficult because the industry is struggling with 49% annual labor turnover. Training and retaining talent that can follow warehouse processes is a challenge, and as a result, up to 10% of products are put away in the wrong location or the wrong product is picked for shipping. To check for inventory errors, warehouses have people go from pallet location to pallet location and manually compare what they find with what’s reported in their Warehouse Management System (WMS). This is time-consuming, labor-intensive, low value-add, and also affected by labor issues. 

Drone-powered inventory monitoring is one way for warehouses to address the inventory challenge. One vendor leading the charge is Gather AI, which is the first established company using drones to automate inventory monitoring processes for warehouse operators to optimize profitability. With the Gather AI solution, drones fly autonomously through a warehouse and photograph pallet locations. Machine learning algorithms read bar codes and text to compare what’s read with what’s in the WMS. This means employees no longer spend long, tedious hours doing manual inventory with forklifts, and there’s less likelihood of misplacing product (no overordering, no more delayed shipments, and more). The warehouse manager can view inventory data in real-time from a web dashboard and easily identify and fix inventory exceptions, even creating a to-do list for their teams. This process is up to 15 times faster than manual cycle counting, and drone-powered inventory monitoring can be applied to virtually any warehouse type. 

Now, let’s look at a specific use case. Gather AI customer, Barrett Distribution, provides customized 3PL, DTC e-commerce fulfillment, omni-channel distribution, comprehensive transportation management and retail compliance for clients across apparel & footwear, health & beauty, CPG, consumer electronics, food, candy, grocery, and automotive.

VP of Business Process Optimization, Jim Rapoza, shares in this interview how in his opinion, the Gather AI technology has been tremendous. They’ve seen significant inventory speed improvement, especially in very narrow aisles (VNAs) and are scanning 300 or so locations per flight hour in VNAs, resulting in 1800-2000 license plates per flight hour. This allows their team members to do more value-added activities like researching variances, auditing, and training to support operations. He says “We’ve also seen improvements in DPPM upwards of up to 70% in a highly accurate facility.”

SVP of Customer Solutions, Scott Hothem, in a recent webinar talked about how Barrett was able to differentiate using the Gather AI solution. On a tour leading a prospective client through a facility, the client was so interested in the drones, they spent 30 minutes watching it and discussing the benefits. Scott says that was a disruptive event, and they ended up winning the business. He says “Customers love to see things that are new and different. At the end of the day, it’s not only your people, but also new and interesting technology and how it’s going to benefit them.” 

Other real examples of how autonomous drones have improved inventory monitoring processes: They reduced one company’s full inventory collection time from 90 days to 2.5 days and WMS error rate from 11% to 3% in three months. One company saved $350K by improving putaway efficiency, and another doubled their sales in one year. 

Gather AI started with three Carnegie Mellon University students, Sankalp Arora, Daniel Maturana and Geetesh Dubey, who were studying robotics. As a part of their PhD research, they developed the world’s first guaranteed safe full-scale autonomous helicopter, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and tested it in FBI training grounds in Quantico. The helicopter could avoid obstacles, land itself, cover 10 kilometers in under three minutes, and build a beautiful 3D map of the environment. The drones were curious about landing zones, wires, openings in buildings, and moving assets. That’s when these three further realized drones are excellent data-gathering machines. Their project won the Howard Hughes award, AUVSI Xcellence award, and was nominated for the Collier Trophy. 

The three transferred their research and passion for making drones curious to co-found Gather AI in 2018. 

As you’re planning inventory monitoring activities for next year and beyond, keep drone-powered inventory monitoring in mind. Your employees, customers and partners will thank you.