Supply chain businesses continue to increase in complexity.

  1. The ever increasing success of e-commerce requires new supply chain solutions at every stage of the logistic operations, including (continuous) inventory management.
  2. Industry 4.0 digitisation, with goods being produced more flexibly, impacts inventory management.
  3. The trend towards "X-as-a-service" requires continuous stock management.

To realise this flexibility, powerful warehouse management software has been introduced. On the warehouse floor, we have RFID- or barcode-based solutions and even robots with RFID readers.

However, even these, mostly traditional stock inventory solutions remain very labour-intensive and time-consuming, involving reach trucks, forklifts, man-up cages or scissor lifts and taking up hundreds of man-hours for every counting cycle. In addition, human errors occur frequently, thereby impacting the quality of the available data and resulting in additional lost man-hours. Walmart reported in 2013 to have lost $3 billion in revenues from inventory mismatches. Finally, as the racks can be stacked quite high (up to 16 metres), manual inventory tracking can result in serious accidents. 

To overcome all this, we need automated inventory management solutions. That’s why Flanders Make and its partners, under the project lead of Aucxis, research lead of IDLab Ghent and supported by VLAIO, have joined forces in an imec.icon research project, supported by VLAIO, to investigate the use of drones to perform automated inventory management tasks, with live feedback and integration with database systems. This approach is expected to save hundreds of man-hours and obtain high-quality data at much higher frequencies.

Project goals

We need multiple challenging interdisciplinary innovations to achieve our vision, including:

  • To mount novel RFID and vision-based inventory solutions on drones.
  • To develop an automated, wireless drone recharging solution based on induction.
  • To investigate methods of reliably communicating drone control traffic and inventory data.
  • To enable infrastructure-light indoor localization, drone navigation and task execution.

Economic value

The project aims to realise innovation in the logistics domain.

From an economic point of view, Flanders is a key European player in this domain. According to Flanders Investment and Trade, Flanders tops the leader board in terms of European logistics operations density, being the home to about 800 European Distribution Centre. From this perspective, there is a strong push from the government to drive innovation that can help to further optimise logistics and supply chain management, with more automated warehouse inventory solutions being one of the missing pieces of the puzzle to increase productivity and decrease losses.

In addition, by adopting drone-based inventory solutions, employees no longer have to perform potentially dangerous inventory taking activities at a height, thereby decreasing the number of injuries and contributing to increased employee safety and satisfaction.

Contact us

Contact project leader Kurt Geebelen for more information