Are you dreading the annual inventory of your logistics warehouse? What if automation was the solution to the needs of supply chain managers and operators? Inventory is a major asset of a company, so controlling it is essential to ensure the sustainability of the logistics activity.
This tedious and repetitive task is time-consuming for logistics staff. In fact, it takes 160 seconds to process a single pallet manually. Therefore, automated inventory by robot or drone significantly facilitates the operations. Whether your inventory is periodic or perpetual, general or selective, you can implement an automatic solution. How to automate your physical stocktaking? Discover COUNTBOT®, our drone to facilitate stock management.
What is the role of inventory management in logistics?
The role of stocktaking is to check the accuracy of the stock management carried out throughout the year and thus to allow correct inventory valuation. Thanks to the possible anomalies in stockkeeping detected, you can rectify the errors (wrong location, wrong quantities, referencing issues etc.).
In a logistics warehouse, the inventory identifies among other things:
- Referencing errors of items
- Addressing of goods in the warehouse which should facilitate the picking stage
- Potential theft or breakage
- Unsold goods
- The classification of products…
Identifying these routine errors avoids financial losses that can be detrimental to the company in the long term. In case of selling the company, the inventory is an indicator of its value: it is ultimately a tool for economic performance.
During the physical, or manual, inventory, supply chain employees scan the products in the warehouse one by one using a radio frequency terminal. Manual stocktaking therefore requires an interruption of warehouse activity to accurately count each product in stock. Warehouse management software (known as WMS) can display the item count in real time.
The accounting inventory and the annual physical inventory are legally required. The former must be carried out before 31 December and lists stocks and fixed assets, to assess the value of the company’s possessions.
The balance sheet includes the following items:
- Real estate
- Movable property
- Raw materials
- Semi-finished or finished products
What is a physical inventory?
The physical inventory is not a trivial operation for the logistics company. It meets the specific needs of the supply chain in terms of stock management reliability.
What are the objectives of the manual stocktaking?
The physical inventory activity lists the elements of the site such as:
- Real estate
- Movable property
- Raw materials
- Finished products.
In the warehouse, the aim is above all to evaluate the quantity of raw materials, finished or semi-finished products according to the activity. Good stock management avoids stock-outs, which are detrimental to customer satisfaction and competitiveness, or on the contrary overstocking, which leads company to lose money.
The main types of inventory
Physical inventories are divided into different categories. For all categories, you are legally required to take at least one inventory per year. These different types of inventories leave you free to choose whether you want to count all your items or only certain product classes on a periodic or perpetual basis.
The annual inventory
It is carried out once a year with the aim of verifying the results of the accounting inventory. This time-consuming and tedious task requires the mobilisation of significant trained personnel and material means. The annual inventory can last up to several days, depending on the number of references, and the operation of your warehouse is inevitably slowed down during this time.
The partial inventory
During the partial inventory, only part of your references is counted. It is carried out as many times as necessary during the year, rotating on the referenced products. This method therefore divides the counting work into periodic counts. With a partial inventory session, fewer financial resources are required, and its organisation is more accessible. This practice is also widespread as it gives a regular view of the state of the stock: stock shortages are thus more easily anticipated, category by category.
The perpetual inventory
Described as computerised inventory, perpetual inventory works in conjunction with your Warehouse Management System. This method provides an instant and global view of the stock situation. The count of available items is updated on the software interface as soon as an item enters or leaves your warehouse. Perpetual inventory is more complicated to set up: it requires more resources, especially for the installation of the software. This type of physical inventory is not suitable for logistics business with frequent stock rotation. However, it is the method that provides the most accurate results. This type of stocktaking makes it easier and more comfortable to keep track of stocks thanks to the real-time count.
Full inventory vs. selective inventory: what is the difference?
There are two ways of carrying out a physical inventory. The choice of method depends on the desired accuracy, but also on the possibility of stopping the logistics activity. It should be noted that general and selective inventories can complement each other: for example, with a full inventory once a year, supplemented by targeted inventories on critical references.
Full physical inventory count
During this type of inventory, all items stored are counted at the same time. The entire warehouse must be shut down until the inventory is completed. The duration of the inventory session depends on the size of the storage shed and the number of trained employees available.
Selective physical inventory count
As the name suggests, this stocktaking method focuses on pre-selected items. The selective inventory is carried out periodically to check that the results of the book inventory match the actual stock. It can focus on a range of references or on an area of the warehouse. Carried out frequently, its main advantage is that it does not require the complete shutdown of the supply chain.
The results of full inventory count are more accurate compared to those obtained on targeted references.
How to make a quick and efficient stocktaking with automated inventory?
Inventory can be a laborious and time-consuming process, so automation is the solution to facilitate the work of the logistics operators and improve the company’s performance. With the use of COUNTBOT® at L’Oréal, our client has seen a reduction of 1,700 hours per year in the time spent on this task, a precious gain.
What are the steps to implement an automatic inventory system?
Automation suggests using a robotic device to support the operators. What are the essential steps to move from manual to automated inventory?
- Select the inventory technology tool that meets the needs of the business: number of product references, size of the warehouse, type of goods, etc.
- Combine the robot with the WMS to update or synchronise information: product references, quantities, etc.
- Train potential users in the company to ensure optimal use of the device.
- Map the warehouse, a step that should be repeated if the configuration of the buildings or shelving is changed.
These set-up steps require both financial investment and time. But once the inventory robot is up and running, the benefits flow. To carry out the automated inventory:
- Select the area to be scanned by the robot (depending on whether it is a full or selective inventory)
- The robot scans the labels on the pallets one by one, and transmits the information to the WMS or allows it to be updated with verified data
- You get the information in real time from your computer!
- Most robots and drones can direct themselves to their charging station when needed.
What are the advantages of automated inventory?
The benefits of automated inventory are real for your warehouse:
- Time saving: fewer trips along the logistics warehouse, fewer human resources required at the same time. The robot’s better performance avoids the need for double-checks.
- Improved safety: operators no longer need to climb up onto platforms to access products. Reduced movements in the storage area also reduce the risk of falls or collisions with other equipment.
- Better reliability: manual counting involves human error. Automatic counting has better repeatability. Once automation is in place, the operation is identical for each inventory session, ensuring better reproducibility.
- More flexibility: the inventory can be carried out over a wider range of hours, even when employees are absent (nights and weekends). It is therefore no longer necessary to adapt schedules to the inventory session.
How to automate the logistics inventory?
You can automate your logistical balances using technological solutions such as drones and robots.
Technologies available for automated inventory
Robots are used in many fields and several references are now available to robotically perform an inventory. Robotics can be combined with a drone to obtain an even more innovative result and significant performance! To scan products at height, inventory drones have telescopic arms. The inventory drones are able to move at height to reach the highest racks.
What are the advantages of drones for warehouse inventory management?
COUNTBOT® is the solution co-designed by Tonner Drones and GEODIS to automate physical inventory. This device is a robot coupled with a stabilising drone, supplied with operating software. The drone, associated with robotics, makes it a real jewel of technology!
The interface is necessary to enhance the capabilities of the robot, and allows to:
- Accurately map the storage area in 2D
- Create a 3D representation of the storage units (racks)
- Program the trajectory of the inventory drone before its launch
- Display the label scan report.
The data collected by the COUNTBOT® allows the WMS to be updated with verified information. The technology supports operators in the complicated task of annual stocktaking, with the following benefits:
- Scan barcodes and RFID tags quickly
- Moving around in space on several levels
- Increasing the accuracy of counting
- Limit accidents in the warehouse.
The COUNTBOT® solution is now available for sale or as a service, in collaboration with GEODIS. We can carry out inventory mission on request according to your needs: size and configuration of your warehouse, number of locations, etc.
The three key points to remember:
- The physical inventory is crucial for the management of company’s assets. However, it is a resource-intensive operation, both in terms of personnel and material means. The manual method is carried out at least once a year, but it can be broken down over time and focused on a specific area or items.
- Automating the inventory is a solution for better logistics performance. The reduction of errors and the flexibility offered by the operation result in time savings and a potential improvement of the company’s turnover.
- Drones and inventory robots are the new technological innovations for logistics management. They are able to read barcodes or RFID tags of products in the warehouse. After mapping, they automatically move to the areas to operate stock inventory.
Automatic stocktaking is a revolution in the supply chain world. Beyond the annual inventory, automated inventory management solutions support logistics staff in their daily tasks, especially if your business has a rapid turnover of products and, therefore, a need for permanent inventory.
Drones and inventory robots are still disruptive technologies, but their impact on warehouse performance is rapid. The COUNTBOT® solution is available for sale or as a service and can be adapted to your specific inventory requirements.
Contact us to find out how the COUNTBOT® can help you with your inventory automation.