Drones reduce stock-taking from 30 to 2 days

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CEO Woon Junyng the CEO of Singapore based startup Infinium Robotics sees the future of warehouse data collection in drones. He is ready to show the world what he believes to be the next step. Woon developed strong will and courage at the Armed Forces to overcome any obstacles he and his organisation might faces. His background and story is impressive enough to listen to him.

Infinium Robotics is still fairly new startup operating in an also new technology sector. The combination isn't unusual. We have seen similar situations with Apple and Microsoft.

“Back in 2013, the use of drones was still in the infancy (stage), but it was starting to grow. I thought, can drone technology be used in the civilian sector? And then I realized there are actually a lot of applications,” Woon said.

One of those possible applications is warehouse inventory management and rapid scanning. Infinium has its solution – called Infinium Scan – in its test phase where the company succeeded to develop a highly accurate positioning methodology. Woon knows that indoor drones face a different set of challenges, too, as GPS signals cannot be read accurately indoors and limited space presents risks of collision.
Its indoor positioning technology can measure accuracy to the centimetre, while its camera system can measure accuracy to the millimetre.

“If you are (flying drones) outdoors you can measure your errors in metres and it still works because there is so much space,” said Woon.  “When indoors, you might be able to get signals through opening of windows or doors but your position is not accurate.”

This way is expected to reduce the stock-taking processes at warehouses from 30 days to two days.

Woon and his team is clearly working on very different sorts of robots than the human-like walking talking ones we see appearing usually in Japanese trade shows. The main motivations are productivity and speed which is very agreeable in the today's economic climate.

“You see robotics coming in to replace very specific functions of human labour. Robots cannot replace humans entirely. That means you cannot create a robot to be like a human and do everything,” Woon said. “Robots have to be designed to do one task, and to do it well and do it better (than humans).”

 

 

Woon is optimistic about the future growth opportunities and thinks it is a good time to develop advanced drones.

“Actually (slow economic growth) would hasten the process of our technology being adopted by companies. Why? Because as logistics companies find that their profit margins are being squeezed, they will find ways to increase profit margins,” he said. “And that’s when (they) would be willing to adopt new technology to improve profit margins.”

Despite its small size, Singapore makes for an ideal testbed for Infinium Robotics’ new technology because it is a shipment hub, where many global logistics MNCs, such as Maersk, DHL and U-Freight, have set their bases.

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But Woon thinks even the largest organisations have plenty of room to improve when it comes to technology background.

“If you look at automation technologies that companies are using at the moment, it’s actually very primitive, like we’re still stuck (from) 20 years ago. But it’s no fault of the companies because they have to stick to something that works,” he said.

 


Despite such setbacks, Woon believes his military background has trained him well to help him realise his vision of taking his drone technology beyond Singapore.

“Enemies will try to counter your will, make sure that your forces are demoralized, so that they will win. For us, as commanders and officers, we have to make sure the morale is high, and we work towards one single goal. That’s what we do in the military that can be applied to (my business).”

Read the oroginal article on e27.co.

No checkout line!

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No checkout? The future is here!

Amazon .com Inc. brings exciting solution for shoppers in hurry. In Seattle, Washington the company introduces the world's first grocery store without checkout lines. At least how we know them today.

The new system allows users take whatever they want from the store without scanning or otherwise manually building up the list of purchase. It all happens behind the scene on-line.

According to Jing Geo, Bloomberg the company is testing the new system at what it’s calling an Amazon Go store in Seattle, which will open to the public early next year. Customers will be able to scan their phones at the entrance using a new Amazon Go mobile app. Then the technology will track what items they pick up or even return to the shelves and add them to a virtual shopping cart in real time, according a video Amazon posted on YouTube. Once the customers exit the store, they’ll be charged on their Amazon account automatically.

The concept store and automated checkout mark Amazon’s latest attempt to upend the grocery business. The company began experimenting with fresh food in 2007, when it started AmazonFresh, a delivery service now active in 16 U.S. markets. Amazon has since started opening pickup centers where shoppers can fetch their web purchases. Perhaps recognizing that many people remain reluctant to purchase fresh food online, sight unseen, the company is now testing what looks a lot like a convenience store.

“Most people still have two requirements,” said Forrester analyst Brendan Witcher. “One is, ‘I want something today, I don’t want to wait.’ Number two is ‘I want to touch and feel the product before I commit to it.”’

So if the Amazon Go concept works, will the company build small grocery stores in cities all over the country? Amazon isn’t saying. But some analysts envision a combination pickup center, fulfillment warehouse and small grocery store. After all, Amazon is already building urban warehouses, including a 50,000-square-foot facility in midtown Manhattan, that handle same-day deliveries to local customers.

some analysts envision a combination pickup center, fulfillment warehouse and small grocery store

Selling fresh food is a strategy long employed by retailers to boost foot traffic and get people to buy more stuff.

“I believe you’re going to see growing offline presence in high-turnover goods, which is mostly groceries and household items,” said James Cakmak, an analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. 

da42jb6wr4gdhqfdjupbmh-320-80Amazon employees are testing out the 1,800-square-foot store on the company’s campus, where they can buy ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options as well as grocery essentials from bread and milk to artisanal cheeses and locally made chocolates. Also available: Amazon Meal Kits, containing all the ingredients needed to make a meal for two in 30 minutes.

The Amazon Go store is just part of Amazon’s broader retail strategy. Another format the company is considering is a larger shop that also has a curbside pick-up component, according to the Wall Street Journal. If this concept pans out, Amazon could potentially open 2,000 locations, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. That’s similar to an option being developed for customers to pick up items at Prime Now fulfillment centers.

Workers will still be needed

Grocers have been experimenting with automated checkout for years. The stores argue that the idea is not to get rid of workers, but to free them up to mount displays and help customers find what they need. In some Stop and Shop stores customers can use scanning guns to total up the bill as they troll the aisles. But shoppers still have to go to a checkout station at the end to upload their bill and pay, or hand the scanner over to a cashier, which sometimes still entails waiting in line. 

Amazon Go takes the concept to a new level -- much as One Click shopping did when the company introduced it online years ago.

“While it remains to be seen how well the technology works, the experience could be very compelling,” said Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute. “Completely removing the friction associated with checkout has the ability to be a competitive differentiator.”

RFID – How to use

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It's in the keycard you wave to enter a secure office building. It's in the key fob you use to speed your gas purchases and the devices that let you zip through toll lanes on the highway.

You might not have heard of radio frequency identification, or RFID, but you probably encounter it every day.  And it could be a valuable tool for your business.

rfid-660x438RFID is an automatic identification technology "• like a souped-up barcode. A barcode relies on a visual scan to transmit data, but RFID relies on radio waves and doesn't need a line-of-sight to read data. In place of a barcode, you have an RFID tag or "transponder," read by a hand-held reader, door-mounted reader, or some other configuration. 

Many large companies and organizations have adapted RFID to business applications, such as supply chain logistics. The U.S. Department of Defense, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, along with some other retailers, now require that their suppliers tag shipments with RFID so that the data can be automatically recorded when goods arrive. But because many of the companies that supply the DoD and the retail chains are small and mid-sized businesses, and because RFID has more business uses, RFID is a technology tool with which businesses of all sizes may need to become familiar.

"RFID has been used mainly by large companies so far, but there is nothing inherent in the technology that makes it a big company technology," says Mark Roberti, founder and editor of RFID Journal, an independent media company devoted to RFID and its many business applications. "RFID helps companies identify, monitor, and manage all the things in their business that they are not managing effectively today, which is just about everything that is mobile and not connected to the Internet. So if you are a small company that has containers, tools, vehicles, inventory, files, and so on, then RFID can help improve the way you do business."

The following guide details the types of small business applications of RFID, types of RFID, and how to work with experts to implement RFID solutions.

How to Use RFID Technology: RFID Applications for Small Business

In addition to the requirements from bigger companies, some small businesses want to use RFID because the technology can help them solve business problems. "RFID makes companies of all sizes more efficient by helping them track their inventory and equipment," says Chuck Thompson, vice president of sales for Rush Tracking Systems, an RFID software and services firm. "These efficiencies most commonly come in the form of less labor and better accuracy. Many of our business cases are built by eliminating manual scanning, error proofing processes, and eliminating the non-value added labor associated with correcting errors such as expediting, searching, cycle counting, and reconciliation. 

Before you even consider types of RFID technology, identify the business challenges you are trying to solve and the business processes you could put in place if you had near perfect visibility to your inventory and assets. Common starting points are areas where there is a repetitive need for data entry done manually or with barcodes, Thompson says. 

Some of the challenges that RFID can help businesses address include the following, says Thompson:

  • Improved IT asset utilization by tracking servers, notebooks, or lab equipment.

  • Improved document management by tracking the location, status, and chain of custody of legal documents.

  • Rental and "check-out" situations, such as tools or at an equipment rental outlet.

  • Reducing inventory by providing an accurate picture of existing inventory and eliminating the need for over-ordering "backup inventory."

  • Improved inventory accuracy reduces the non value add labor required to cycle count to find and verify where certain items are.

  • Eliminating repetitive data entry, such as situations in which shipments are tracked by hand on a clipboard only to be entered later into a computer database.

  • Keeping tabs on high-value assets or products, for example, calibration equipment, construction tools, or medical devices.

  • Tracking high-turnover products, like clothing in racks, hundreds of books at a bookstore, or tires on a rack.

  • Tracking consigned inventory like eyeglasses at a doctor's office.

  • Identifying and tracking returnable bins, racks, and containers like plastic totes, beer kegs, or gas cylinders at a medical supply house. 

  • And finally, in meeting customer mandates.

RFID can help companies manage many elements of their business that is not managed by their IT systems today, such as parts, tools, returnable containers, vehicles, and so on. "It can also help small manufacturers customize product for individual customers," Roberti says. "Customization increases the complexity of the supply chain, but RFID makes the process easier by providing accurate information about each item being tracked. The benefits that can be achieved are increased customer loyalty. That's a big one for many small companies."

Operationally, RFID can reduce costs associated with labor, time, and efficiencies "• such as automatically recording information about goods received into computer systems. But often small companies don't have large inventories to track, so a bigger benefit is reducing capital expenditure, Roberti says. "If you have tools, returnable containers, and other assets, you have to replace a certain amount of these each year," he says. "If you track these more effectively, you need fewer assets, which means you can reduce your annual capital expenditure."

rfid-tagHow to Use RFID Technology: Types of RFID Technology

Before you hire a consultant or attempt to implement RFID on your own, you need some basic knowledge about the technology. 

 

 

RFID Tags

RFID tags are available in three configurations:

  • Passive tags have no internal power source, but they draw power from the reader. These are usually the most inexpensive tags and are often disposable.

  • Active tags contain a battery used for transmitting and are usually more expensive but can often be reused.

  • Semi-passive, a hybrid of passive and active, use a battery to operate the RFID chip, but communicate using power from the reader.

RFID Frequencies

RFID tags are also available in various frequencies. These include low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), ultra-high frequency (UHF), and ultra-wide band (UWB). Typically, higher frequencies offer more bandwidth and data exchange, and a higher communication range, Thompson says. Likely, you'll need UHF, the "supply chain frequency," mandated by Wal-Mart, the DoD, and Sam's Club. 

RFID Starter Kits 

As complex as RFID may sound, "it isn't sorcery," Thompson says. Nor is it as expensive as it was a few years ago when Wal-Mart mandated RFID from 100 of its larger suppliers. Some suppliers initially balked, with estimates of up to $1 million for new RFID systems, but technology vendors soon responded with easy-to-implement and lower cost "starter kits" and "slap-and-ship" applications, which allowed small businesses to experiment with RFID and try one application at a time.

"Many RFID equipment providers will provide starter kits for as low as $2,500, including a reader and some tags," Thompson says. "For $25,000, many implementers will provide some kind of express ROI assessment or focused implementation, including one or two readers, some tags, installation, and support."

The best type of project for a small business to start with is one that is small, confined to one application (such as asset tracking), and in a "closed loop," which means within the four walls of your property. Businesses can always expand the applications or the types of goods tracked, and the data can be integrated into enterprise computer systems, but it's important to master the technology on a small scale before attempting a larger undertaking, experts say.

How to Use RFID Technology: Working with RFID Experts

RFID is a tool, much like a hammer or wrench. Some jobs you can do yourself, but other times you'll need to call in a "master craftsman," Thompson says.

"Companies will most likely need help, except for the simplest applications," Roberti says. "One problem they will face is getting experienced systems integrators to work with them. There are very few highly experienced integrators, and they tend to focus on bigger companies that can spend more. Getting a good integrator involved in a smaller project can be a challenge, but if the scope of the project is well defined and the small company understands the benefit it will get, then an integrator will take the work."

Look only for consultants with experience implementing RFID and all forms of automatic identification, including barcode. While RFID is one method of auto ID and data transfer, it will not necessarily be the right one for your business, Thompson says. A reputable consultant will have numerous clients and references, and ideally, one with a product or process similar to yours.

Here are some things to ask the RFID implementer you're considering working with:

  • Understand your integrator's main business and make sure they are focused on RFID. Are they really a hardware vendor trying to upsell software or services? Are they really a barcode integrator trying to sell RFID? Are they really a software provider trying to sell integration and deployment services?

  • It's about business results, not technology. Make sure your integrator can point to successful projects they have deployed which have delivered business results. 

  • Be clear about the help you require. If you need help with the business case, then make sure to choose an integrator who can help you up front, building the project justification, as well as deploying the solution. 

  • Résumés of the people who will work on your implementation. "Ask if they are employees or contractors," Thompson says. "Ensure your services contract specifically states what role the experienced resources will play. Be sure they will not just be assisting by phone."

  • A presentation that will provide an overview of the RFID solutions developed for other customers. The implementer has signed nondisclosure agreements, so they can't tell you everything, Thompson says. However, the implementer should be able to describe what equipment was used, how it was integrated, what challenges were overcome, and the business results of the solution. 

  • RFID customer references. Then thoroughly verify them.  

  • On-site training. "Look for a consultant who can provide on-site training," Thompson says. "Off-site product classes are good, but hands-on training with your specific solution is far better."

  • Names of RFID hardware manufacturers with which the implementer has experience. Then ask the RFID manufacturer for a reference, and whether the implementer is certified on that equipment, Thompson suggests.


The article originally appeared first in Inc Magazine - inc.com