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This luxury e-commerce fulfillment platform is using drones to manage inventory

PFS handles orders for luxury brands like Pandora and L’Oreal

Pictured: The Vimaan drone that PFS will deploy in its facility in Memphis — and potentially the rest of its global fulfillment network (Photo: Vimaan)

The logistics industry is really starting to talk about drone delivery as Amazon, Alphabet, UPS and others get their services off the ground. Modern Shipper even launched a new show about drone delivery tech to get in on the conversation.

But even within the logistics space, drones are far from one-trick ponies.

E-commerce order fulfillment platform PFS, a subsidiary of PFSweb Inc. (NASDAQ: PFSW) which counts luxury brands like Pandora and L’Oreal as clients, is partnering with tech provider Vimaan to introduce drones to its business — but they won’t be making deliveries.

In fact, the aircraft won’t even leave the warehouse. Instead, PFS will use Vimaan’s StorTRACK AIR drones as an eye in the sky to manage inventory in its fulfillment centers. Initially, the company will deploy them at a facility in Memphis, Tennessee, that handles picking, packing and shipping for several of its customers. It plans to roll out the technology globally through 2023.

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“With the rise in demand for multi-node fulfillment operations, it’s more critical than ever to track inventory more efficiently across our facilities,” said Jon Gardner, senior vice president of fulfillment operations at PFS. “Vimaan’s technology allows us to implement real-time tracking against our WMS more accurately, efficiently and safely. It also enables PFS to deploy immediate investigation and adjustments to improve accuracy and responsiveness for our clients.”

Vimaan, which emerged from stealth in January, uses self-piloting drones to scan inventory from the ground to the ceiling, filling in gaps that scanners and RFID readers sometimes miss. The robots can capture up to 1,500 inventory locations per hour — that’s nearly one scan every second.

The Silicon Valley-based startup also has introduced two other warehouse solutions in recent months — an automated shipping and receiving system called DockTRACK and an order packing validation solution called PackVIEW. It added another fulfillment customer, Sunland Logistics Solutions, last month and plans to announce several other clients this year.

“We believe near real-time 100% inventory accuracy and visibility across the entire warehouse is attainable,” said S.K. “KG” Ganapathi, Vimaan founder and CEO. “PFS is not only ahead of the curve by being one of the first in the industry to utilize this groundbreaking technology, but they’re also a valuable partner to us as we continue to innovate our technology and solutions.”

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For PFS, adding drone tech from Vimaan may just be the tip of the iceberg. PFS President and COO Zach Thormann noted that the company is exploring solutions to improve its inbound receiving, put-away, quality inspection and shipping processes by introducing new forms of automation, including autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and smart scanning technology.

Robots are beginning to cement themselves as a feature of the modern warehouse. From AMRs to robotic sorting arms, AI-based technology is steadily being adopted by warehouse operators. By 2019, more than one-third of warehouses (36%) had adopted some form of robotics or automation, and that figure is projected to reach 85% by 2030.

The only thing limiting the heights that tech like AMRs and other ground-based robots can reach is the literal height they can reach. Drones, though, add another dimension to automation.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.