Why Verity’s Drones Could Be The Future Of Inventory Managem…

How do modern businesses keep track of the inventory, components and other physical assets that are essential to their businesses? The solution, traditionally, has been a manual one, requiring small armies of workers to keep taking stock of what’s in their warehouses and factories; but such work is inefficient, prone to error and sometimes even dangerous. Swiss start-up Verity therefore thinks it has a better way of doing things.

Moreover, while the Zurich-based technology businesses has been innovating in this sector for around a decade, a deal signed this week could now give it much greater global visibility. On, the much-followed Swiss sportswear brand, is to use Verity’s technology in its warehouses, the two companies will reveal today.

Verity’s technology is disarmingly simple: rather than human warehouse workers, it uses autonomous drones to carry out inventory checks. Battery-powered flying robots are installed in each warehouse and take off regularly to survey exactly what stock the company has and where in the facility it is; the data is fed back to the company’s inventory management systems and the drone then returns to its charging dock, ready for its next flight.

Raffaello D’Andrea, co-founder and CEO at Verity, began working on the technology in 2014, as part of a spin-out project from the Swiss university ETH Zürich, where he is a professor. “From a technical perspective, we knew this would be challenging, but we also thought it could be a game-changer,” D’Andrea says. “We felt that if we could create a platform to collect data on anything, anywhere, and then feed that back to clients, it would have enormous value.”

Verity took a little time to get the technology working in the way it hoped but began selling its platform in its current state in 2021. So far, more than 100 companies in 13 countries worldwide have signed up – including the likes of DSV, Maersk and Samsung.

Now On is joining that list. The business, which makes high-performance sportswear and has increased its sales across Europe, has grown rapidly over the past couple of years and now hopes to make better use of technology to drive operational improvements.

“We are excited to partner with Verity to transform our supply chain operations,” says Caspar Coppetti, co-founder and executive co-chairman at On. “By leveraging innovative technological solutions, we aim to improve our operations’ efficiency further, become a more sustainable brand, and take customer satisfaction to new heights.”

For D’Andrea, the big selling point of his technology is that once the Verity system is installed in a warehouse, it just gets on with the job. Warehouse managers don’t have to interact with the system at all – other than to change the rechargeable batteries in the drones every few months.

The autonomous system starts by analysing data to understand which parts of the warehouse or inventory it should prioritise for checking – perhaps stock that hasn’t been counted for a while, say, or goods that have recently been moved. Then it sends instructions to the drones, so that they can perform the checks – typically at night when no-one is in the facility, though the drones can fly when staff are working, if necessary. Finally, the drones feed the results back into the company’s inventory management systems.

Clients such as On are looking for benefits such as improved product availability and order fulfillment rates. Armed with a more accurate and up-to-date picture of exactly what stock they currently have, supply chain managers can make better-informed decisions about what to order and when. Verity claims to reduce typical operational issue rates of 5-12% to below 1%.

Associated benefits include productivity gains, with warehouse staff no longer required to spend hours of their time checking and rechecking goods that may be in far-flung corners of the facility. There is also an environmental impact, as warehouse operations become cleaner and more efficient; Verity claims its clients achieve an average reduction of 1,000 tons of carbon emissions per warehouse each year.

D’Andrea says the only bar to the company’s future growth is the need to convince people that the technology is here and that it works. “To many potential clients, this still feels like science fiction, so we need to move past that reluctance,” he says. Deals with high-profile brands such as On will certainly help with that.

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