Warehouse management: how robotization makes inventory easier

Published on 6 January 2022

Generix Group

An essential moment in the life of a warehouse, inventory is nevertheless a time-consuming and laborious process. What if inventory was no longer synonymous with a necessary evil and a waste of time? WMSs make this possible by giving their users access to new technologies. Like Geodis' Countbot robot which, coupled with Generix Group's WMS, simplifies inventory while improving stock reliability. In doing so, it enables significant savings in time and money.

A traditional wall-to-wall inventory in a 10,000 m2 warehouse requires 30 operators, numerous machines, and a full day of downtime. "With Countbot, we are able to perform this inventory in 3 to 4 hours," says Stéphan Leroux, Business Development Director at Geodis Supply Chain Optimization (SCO).
And this, in autonomy and without disrupting the operation of the warehouse. "It is a fully automated solution, capable of working at night, during the warehouse's closing hours," adds Isabelle Moussa, Innovation Product Manager at Geodis SCO. All of these advantages enable Countbot users to halve the cost of their inventory, on average.
"Collaborative, the robot can be deployed in complete safety in an active warehouse," continues Isabelle Moussa. "CE certified, geolocated and equipped with sensors (including LiDAR sensors), Countbot is able to stop in a few microseconds to avoid collisions."


A mast, a drone, cameras and sensors

Countbot is a new kind of autonomous mobile robot that required three years of R&D by Geodis and its partner Delta Drone. Patented, Countbot has a telescopic carbon fiber mast more than 10 m high, equipped with a stabilizing drone at its tip. All along the mast - whose height can be adapted to the specificities of the installation - are positioned HD cameras that take pictures of all the pallet labels on all the rack levels of the aisle. Countbot allows for a vertical inventory, ultra-fast and in a single pass.
To ensure that the photos are perfectly clear and readable, each camera is equipped with a powerful flash to guarantee a level of brightness that is always adequate, day or night. Intelligent algorithms detect barcodes on scanned labels in real time. Countbot also detects empty slots, key information for any warehouse manager wishing to optimize the organization of his stock.


Generix WMS: an essential asset to exploit Countbot data

All information gathered by Countbot is collected in a comprehensive file including all geotagged and time-stamped photos.
To make the most of this inventory data, it must be compared with the data contained in a WMS, such as that of Generix Group, a Geodis partner, in order to be able to identify any discrepancies and remedy them.
Geodis has developed an intuitive interface to compare the information extracted from the WMS, a key inventory management tool, with that captured by Countbot. "If there is a discrepancy, simply click on a link to display an orthophotograph (a reconstruction of the pallet location from several photos) and determine at a glance and without a shadow of a doubt what the right information is," says Isabelle Moussa. Thanks to these HD photos, there is no longer any need to go and check in person in the sometimes high racks, with the associated loss of time and danger. Operators are then mobilized only when it is essential, in particular for relabeling operations when labels are peeled off, torn off, damaged or illegible. 
Geodis worked with Generix Group to ensure maximum compatibility between the Countbot robot and the Generix software package. The work continues today, so that the communication between Countbot and the WMS is always easier and more fluid.


A flexible solution

Designed to be as easy to use as possible, Countbot does not require heavy installation. On the contrary, the robot is designed to be plug and play. It can be easily disassembled and transported, weighs just over 200 kg and fits in a van.

Before Countbot can carry out its inventory mission, it needs only one prerequisite: to know the layout of the warehouse. "We take a day to do what we call mapping, which means teaching the robot the layout of the warehouse, all the possible navigation paths, the rack levels, the different locations... This allows Countbot to geolocate itself in X, Y and Z," explains Isabelle Moussa.

Once this mapping is done, Countbot does not need to be connected to Wi-Fi, 4G or 5G, it evolves autonomously. Only the passage of a fire door between two cells will require the intervention of an operator to tilt the mast.
Countbot also has a 7-hour battery, enough to cover a "classic" 10,000 m2 cell.