Food and beverage warehouse operators today face many challenges to keep their facilities running effectively and efficiently. These challenges result from labor shortages, supply chain delays, increased e-commerce purchasing habits by consumers, demand and price fluctuations due to the pandemic and even the latest egg shortages caused by the avian flu. These industry and environmental challenges make cycle-counting, inventory location tracking and overall labor optimization more difficult and make it challenging to do inventory monitoring properly.
To cycle-count properly, employees travel through the warehouse and physically scan pallets while on tall pickers or forklifts. This process requires a lot of staff hours, which can be frustrating and can result in on-the-job injuries. As many warehouses are tight on resources in today’s environment, they will check their inventory from the ground which can lead to lower inventory accuracy, poorer warehouse utilization and incorrect or missed orders.
Using drones for inventory monitoring was something most people considered to be science fiction only a few years ago. Today, it’s a reality and food and beverage companies are seeing major gains as a result.
Benefits include faster, more efficient inventory monitoring, which enables spoilage prevention, better first-in-first-out (FIFO) management, rotation, space optimization and more. All contributing to lower costs, improved productivity and increased sales. Companies ideally suited for this type of technology are those that store their inventory on pallets on racks, have high inventory turns and a constant movement of goods. Does yours apply?
Let’s expand on these benefits.
Faster, more efficient inventory monitoring
Current events have heightened the need for faster, more efficient inventory monitoring. With recent supply chain delays in the United States, warehouses need to move product more swiftly to customers.
This creates a general need for faster fulfillment and cycle counting. Some companies have even moved from an annual cycle counting process to quarterly or monthly.
Labor shortages are also impacting food and beverage warehouses. According to the Consumer Brands Association, “the gap in job openings and workers persists even as wages for CPG manufacturing roles are 5.1% above last year.”
But drone-powered inventory monitoring can help employees to do more with less energy.
For example, an employee may normally be able to scan 60-90 pallets per hour, but with a drone-powered inventory management system, they can harness drones to scan 900 per hour, increasing productivity by 10 times. This removes some of the more repetitive tasks from workers’ to-do lists and frees them up to tackle other challenges.
Also expect more distribution centers taking a B2C approach as consumers order groceries to their homes vs. buying in-store, resulting in more transactions and higher warehouse employee error risk. According to the 2022 Online Grocery Landscape Report from Acosta, “more than half of American households are buying groceries online at least occasionally, compelling the need for retailers to provide more personalized and enhanced experiences around value, convenience and food discovery in order to increase their share of omnichannel shoppers.”
Because product on a pallet will only be valuable for a certain amount of time, if it’s misplaced, that value quickly depletes and the FIFO policy suffers.
If you’re a food and beverage retailer trying to make a sale and your system mistakenly says you have inventory in your distribution center when you don’t, you risk damaging the client relationship.
Drone-powered inventory monitoring allows you to see where all pallets are in your warehouse in real-time, virtually eliminating any risk of misplaced product, potential spoilage which can be especially risky for high-cost goods or a degraded customer experience.
And if for some reason you have a product recall, drone-powered inventory management allows you to look up product lock codes and find them quickly from the comfort of your office or even home. No more jumping into the car over a weekend to manually go through product. Your warehouse employees will thank you for this too.
New regulations 21 C.F.R. part 1, subpart S, which went into effect this past January and have a compliance date of January 2026, make traceability for certain food even more critical.
Rotation and space optimization
If your warehouse has multi-deep pallet stacks, you will obviously want to have the older product available for the picker to reach first, so that that product doesn’t spoil a key rotation strategy. Drones allow you to highlight not only pallet location for employees but ensure they’re selecting the right product by expiration date.
This process also helps identify vacant shelf space in your warehouse, and therein fill that space without fear of running out. Your inventory is likely moving constantly, and warehouse managers can identify and assign open slots via a dashboard without needing to physically drive around the warehouse. With this technology, you can have a full, real-time warehouse map.
Because managers will have full shelf space visibility, warehouse employees will be more likely to keep shelves tidy and clean.
How it works
Drone-powered inventory monitoring is easy to deploy in a warehouse. Let’s talk about how it works.
First, a warehouse operator uses an app to determine locations they want scanned (to find specific pallets, vacant locations and more). Then a drone flies autonomously with this direction and gathers data from the warehouse locations, replacing the need for this to be done manually. Warehouse managers can then view actionable inventory data on their dashboard.