Optimizing inventory management with drone barcode scanners

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Periodical, full inventory counts – whether annual, semi-annual, or quarterly – present warehouses and distribution centers with a serious challenge. To maintain accurate inventory tracking with minimal disturbance, many companies resort to cyclical counting.

However, this method can be labor-intensive and costly, making it unattractive for many businesses.

Traditional warehousing practices have long depended on manual barcode scanning, conducted by human workers navigating shelves and pallets. Though effective, they are far from infallible and can be time-consuming. Human errors, inevitable in manual tasks, can lead to costly discrepancies. 

Drone barcode scanners, equipped with state-of-the-art computer vision technology, are becoming a popular solution to automate and speed up this task.

What are warehouse drones?

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are aerial robotics platforms. Today’s small, agile drones have high-resolution cameras and are perfect for flying around and taking pictures in warehouses. As a result, they are gaining popularity in smart warehouses as efficient tools for inventory management. 

Their primary purpose is to streamline the inventory management process: Warehouse drones quickly scan barcodes on items, shelves, or entire storage areas with great precision and send the data directly to the inventory system.

There are even drone types that operate autonomously or through swarm intelligence: Recent advancements have enabled drones to fly independently through aisles without the need for manual control. These further improve warehouse automation.

How does a drone with barcode scanning capabilities work?

While these drones combine specialized hardware and software, their basic operation is quite straightforward: They follow predefined routes within the warehouse and scan barcodes as they go.

When they detect a barcode, they take a picture with their camera and send the information to the central inventory system. The software then processes the data and updates the database. This real-time information flow enables timely decision-making, helping businesses stay ahead of their inventory needs.

Extract 1D and 2D barcodes in milliseconds

Automating ineffcient and time-consuming workflows boosts productivity and reduces costs.
Barcodes make the transition seamless and can be scanned by any mobile device with a camera and the right software.

Our Barcode Scanner SDK can be integrated into your mobile or web app in just a few hours to transform any mobile device into a powerful barcode scanner!

Main applications of warehouse drones

Drones with advanced scanning technology can be used for various applications. Overall, they serve to improve efficiency, accuracy, and data collection. Here are some areas where drones are making a significant impact:

  • Inventory audits: A key application of drones with barcode scanner capabilities is inventory audits. Traditional manual audits are time-consuming and error-prone. With warehouse drones, companies can conduct regular, automated audits with precision, reducing the risk of stockouts or overstocking.
  • Stock monitoring: Drones help warehouse managers monitor stock levels in real time. This data is invaluable for optimizing reorder points, reducing carrying costs, and improving order fulfillment efficiency.
  • Quality control: Drones can also scan products and identify defects or discrepancies in real time. 

Benefits of drone barcode scanners

  • Faster throughput: Drones can scan barcodes significantly faster than human operators. This saves time by reducing the labor needed for inventory checks, making warehouse operations more efficient.
  • Accurate: Warehouse drones eliminate human error in barcode scanning, ensuring the accuracy of inventory records. This prevents costly inventory discrepancies.
  • Safe: Drones can go to warehouse areas that are dangerous for human workers, such as high shelves or narrow aisles. This enhances warehouse safety and minimizes workplace accidents. 
  • Cost-efficient: Drones can save money in the long run. They require an initial investment but reduce labor costs and prevent losses from errors.
  • Real-time data integration: Drones can transmit data to the warehouse management system in real time, giving decision-makers better supply chain visibility and control. 
  • Scalable: Drone barcode scanning solutions are adaptable to warehouse size and complexity. Whether you operate a small-scale distribution center or a vast, multi-facility logistics hub, drone solutions can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

Challenges and considerations

The implementation of drone barcode scanning does pose some challenges:

  • Maintenance: Drones require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance and prevent operational disruption.
  • Personnel Training: Warehouse staff must be trained in drone operation, including navigation, data extraction, and basic troubleshooting.
  • Regulatory Compliance: The regulatory landscape surrounding drone usage can be difficult to navigate. To avoid legal complications, you must comply with local, national, and international regulations.
  • Integration: Integrating drones with barcode scanning capabilities into existing warehouse systems can be a complex process. This makes good planning, support, and execution paramount.

The future of warehousing 

Drone barcode scanners are slowly but surely changing the way warehouses operate.

Their ability to deliver speed, precision, and safety can positively impact the company’s bottom line.  

Warehouse operators committed to staying on top of the industry and embracing innovation should consider optimized barcode scanners as an investment in their future success. The adoption of drone barcode scanners is poised to be a pivotal chapter in the ongoing story of warehouse innovation.

You can run our Linux Barcode Scanner SDK as a headless tool for fast and reliable barcode scanning in server environments and for embedded systems. It focuses on processing image data and returning barcode data as a list. The SDK is suited for a variety of deployment scenarios, including private clouds and physical hardware such as drones, robots, and edge devices.

The core API is pure C, which enables easy integration into other programming environments through simple wrappers. For a quick start, the SDK already includes a C++ and a Python wrapper.

Head over to our Developer page to learn more. You can also contact our solution experts so we can discuss your individual use case in more detail.

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