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Maersk deploys indoor drones for warehouse inventory counts

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NEW JERSEY: Maritime containership giant A.P. Moller – Maersk is turning to flying drones to manage inventory counts in its warehouse network, the Danish firm said.

New Jersey-based Maersk North America will deploy the battery-powered flying cameras to handle the “difficult, repetitive, and tedious” task of warehouse inventory management, which is says requires workers to work at heights and produces a quality of data that is often questioned.

As an alternative, Maersk has contracted with Switzerland’s Verity, a nine-year-old startup firm that says its autonomous drones cruise the warehouse on nights or weekends, navigating from pallet to pallet to collect data “like bees collecting pollen to make honey at the hive.” Verity’s system then delivers that information to the client’s existing Warehouse Management System (WMS) software product.

Details on the number of drones deployed or the value of the deal were not disclosed. However, the company said the project started six months ago and currently includes drones operating at four sites, according to Maersk spokesman Thomas Boyd. Maersk’s deployment plan for 2023 is to install drones in all its warehouses that have pallet storage, he said.

Maersk says the system requires one day of operator training, and the electric-powered drones take photos of SKUs on pallets to identify inventory errors, such as missing or misplaced pallets, before returning to their battery charging pads when necessary.

“As a supply chain integrator, we are constantly looking for new innovations and engineering solutions in our warehouse operations,” Erez Agmoni, Senior Vice President of innovation & strategic growth for Maersk North America, said in a release. “We wanted to deploy a safer, more accurate, data-driven inventory solution that addressed our decarbonization goals for customers and prevented our workforce from working at heights.”

The move is Maersk’s latest step to extend its ocean network to land, following deals to buy the last-mile trucking fleet Pilot Freight Services, the business to business (B2B) warehousing and distribution firm Performance Team (PT), and the e-commerce warehousing and parcel distribution company Visible SCM.

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