Drone-supported inventory with Convista and doks.innovation
In manufacturing companies, inventory is a constant companion that is time-consuming and interferes with or disrupts operational processes. Despite the available simplification methods, inventory is a cost factor that should not be neglected. Since processes and their optimization are our passion, we have taken on this issue. One solution is drone-supported inventory.
Innovation of the inventory process: Drone-supported inventory
Business process management and innovations are part of Convista’s DNA. In this respect, we were immediately on board when it came to automating the inventory process. Capturing inventories via drone and automated further processing via EWM into an S/4HANA system seemed exciting and promising to us. Together with our partner doks.innovation, we had everything that was needed for this. doks.innovation has the technology for a drone-based solution in the high-bay warehouse with doks.inventairy, and we have the knowledge and experience for integration via EWM and S/4HANA. Our many years of experience with warehouse processes and the technologies of digitalization played into our hands.
Due to the fact that the inventory process is a process characterized by manual activities, it is not surprising that it is also considered time-consuming and cost-intensive. However, this also results in an immense savings potential if this process can be automated.
Our objective was therefore to automate both the manual counting process and the further processing of the counting results.
The advantages of taking inventory with drones are obvious
Taking inventory is costly. A large number of employees must be scheduled for the inventory, but often they must be hired separately or booked from external service providers. By using drones, these enormous personnel costs can be saved.
It is in high-bay warehouses that the cost savings are most evident. Here, the items must first be brought to the floor by forklifts or similar aids so that they can then be counted. The tools are limited and the warehouse becomes inaccessible for a long time. A drone flying along the shelves saves significant time here. In addition, several drones can be used in parallel and reduce the duration of the inventory even further.
The use of the drone also saves on personnel costs. With a conventional inventory, external employees normally have to be called in for the inventory. These are often untrained, which can often lead to errors and damage during the inventory. For certain items, trained personnel must also be used, which entails further costs.
When an inventory is taken, the warehouse area being counted must be cordoned off, resulting in high costs because the warehouse cannot be used for day-to-day operations. The advantage of drone technology here is that the drones can operate autonomously. I.e., even at night when there is no warehouse operation. A drone-based inventory is independent of the warehouse infrastructure and enables an efficient and automated inventory.
Since the drone captures the information digitally, it can be transferred to the EWM and/or the S/4HANA system in an automated manner and processed further without any additional manual steps.
How does drone-based inventory work?
As part of SAP Supply Chain Management (SCM), SAP Extended Warehouse Management supports all processes along the logistics chain. As the leading system, the inventory process is started there. SAP Plant Connectivity (PCo) is used for communication between the SAP system and the inventory drone. SAP PCo acts as a link between SAP systems and industry-specific standard data sources.
The complexity and size of today’s warehouses place special demands on the use of drones in the inventory process. In order to meet these requirements, a rethinking of the conventional use of drones was necessary. In order to overcome the limitations of today’s drone technology, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are used. The combination of both systems enables automated and autonomous inventory processes in shelf warehouses. For this purpose, each shelf area is approached horizontally by the AGV and flown to vertically by the drone. The data is recorded by built-in barcode scanners. In addition, a high-resolution image of each pallet is created. The data can be accessed by other systems via a standardized interface.
To ensure smooth and autonomous communication between the SAP system and the drone, this takes place automatically. SAP Plant Connectivity (PCo) is at the heart of this communication. After deciding on the storage bins to be scanned, these are exported and the correspondingly created CSV with the storage bins is stored in a folder. The AGV of doks.innovation monitors this folder for new data and starts the scanning process as soon as new data appears. The new data scanned by the drone is placed back in the folder and PCo forwards this data to the SAP OData service after appropriate conversion.
In the future, communication will run via a RESTful API located on the AGV. This offers the advantage that the process is more performant and uniformly separated. SAP Plant Connectivity then handles the communication in both directions. In addition, once the data has been saved in the OData service, a further control instance is added in the form of a Fiori application. This then offers an employee the possibility to see the deviations between target and actual stock at a glance and to make a decision on the basis of images of the storage bins as to whether the new stock should be posted to the warehouse or not.
Cooperation doks.innovation & Convista
Doks.innovation is a young and innovative company that aims to advance the automation and digitalization of warehouse and inventory processes. Their innovative drone technology enables automated inventory independent of warehouse infrastructure. To further drive these developments, Convista supports doks.innovation in offering additional interfaces. The focus here is on SAP Extended Warehouse Management.
Inventory via drone is still in its infancy, but more exciting goals can be implemented with it. As the drones record video footage during their flight, this can be used to detect damaged products or other defects in the warehouse with the help of machine learning. The sensor technology built into the drones can help check the condition of the storage bins for temperature or similar.
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