I recently read an article about Walmart using drones in its warehouses to increase productivity. The main issue at hand stems around operational inefficiencies where errors in tracking inventory can lead to excess, shortages or misplacements of products. Currently, Walmart has to check inventory manually in each distribution center and warehouse. This process is inefficient and time consuming, taking up to a month to complete. It is expected that a drone would be able to complete this task in under a day, which would save the company a lot of money, not only with regards to staff hours but also operational efficiencies as well.
I get it. Walmart has a necessity to keep up with online retailers like Amazon on who keep bringing down costs with their operational and business efficiencies. Also, drones are cool and a great buzz (pun intended) word when it comes to the news, so Walmart is staying in the limelight with this release. However, I do not think the drones are the answer to the issues that the company is facing. With everything that is going on with the Internet of things (IOT) and connected lighting, I think that Walmart could take a much simpler, effective and more proactive approach to their problem.
I assume Walmart has a robust lighting system in their warehouses since they probably want their employees to see where they’re going. I also assume that like in most of these applications, the luminaires are ubiquitously distributed throughout the warehouse to ensure that there is enough lighting throughout the work area. These two characteristics make an LED lighting system the perfect host for the necessary sensors to collect the data Walmart is looking for, and more.
From our latest Luminaire Report, we can see that LED high bay luminaires in North America (US and Canada) are already a mainstream technology, with shipments rivaling those of HID technologies at nearly 1 million units in 2015.
By 2017, we forecast that non-connected LED shipments will surpass those of all other technologies with more than 50% of all high bay shipments. Of course the main driver for these purchases is the energy efficiency component of LED. That being said, these new LED luminaires also offer the opportunity for the industry to enter the age of the Internet of Things (IOT). By 2020 we expect connected LED luminaires will comprise nearly 8% of all high bay luminaire shipments.
Yes, a drone may be able to complete a task faster and more efficiently than a person, but it is essentially completing the same task. If Walmart wants to take a leap in becoming more efficient and not a baby step, I think the company really needs to think a little bit outside the box. Instead of relying on inventory checks, why not just track inventory in real time as it is distributed throughout the warehouse. Why limit yourself to tracking inventory when you can also track the movement of the forklifts moving the inventory and employees working on the floor and loading trucks. The newest connected lighting systems can do this, and guess what, if you are collecting this data, you might be able to find solutions to problems that you didn’t even know you had. I would expect a company like Walmart to be one of the early adopters of these connected luminaires, especially when the stakes and potential benefits are so high for them.
So, why use drones when a high bay will do a better job?