Drones made commercially viable by UAE-based Exponent

DUBAI- Exponent Technology Services, a UAE based new-age technology services company has developed a unique Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) based solution for inventory management challenges faced by organizations. The solution merges the capabilities of both RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and UAVs – also commonly referred to as drones. This solution has the potential to support the UAE traders to cut their annual operational costs and thereby help them save millions of dollars.

From Left Asam Khan from Exponent and Asim Siddiqui from Age SteelInventory tracking across large open yards presents a serious challenge to many steel traders and distributors in the UAE, resulting in higher operational costs. In order to address this, Exponent developed a solution at its Dubai based lab, over an exhaustive period of research and testing lasting several months.

Age Steel™, one of the Middle East’s premier steel traders operating multiple yards across Dubai, wanted to stream-line their inventory tracking process, as the quantity of stock it receives daily has been growing steadily. This stock is constantly in a state of flux with regard to its storage location within large open yards whose size can vary between 10,000sqm and 65,000sqm. Age Steel™ required an autonomous method of tracking steel stocks that took into account, not only its position in space and time, but also the characteristics of the products themselves.  

Raed Siddiqui, Age Steel’s Director of Operations stated that, “We are continuously striving to improve our internal processes and to employ technology in ways that improve our bottom line.   Our challenge was to locate inventory faster and more accurately, reducing the time spent in processing orders.  We also wanted a system that relied less on human input and one that could automate as much of the inventory tracking process as possible.  Exponent helped realize this goal by automating a large fraction of our inventory counting process while minimizing the extent of change that we had to adopt.  The end result has been a minimally intrusive system that has improved the accuracy and timeliness of our inventory data by several orders of magnitude.”

Drone used by Exponent for this project“We studied Age Steel™’s inventory process and explored multiple identification strategies which ranged widely on the scale of technological sophistication. Human readable labelling, bar-coding and RFID were all considered, but it emerged that uniquely identifying the bundle was not the problem, but locating it accurately within a large open yard that sees tens of thousands of tons of steel product shipped in, internally moved and shipped out monthly. More specifically Age Steel™, wanted their physical and system inventories to match within a 10% variance during any 24 hour period and the location of any particular bundle to be identified within 10 square meters across a one-half million square foot facility. Safety was of paramount importance and was instrumental in Exponent developing UAV flight protocols that would minimize risk to both life and property,” stated Asam Khan, Exponent’s Chief Operating Officer.  

To address this challenge, a proprietary application developed by Exponent accumulated RFID tag signal data via an RFID reader mounted on their customized UAV. This would then be transmitted in flight, in real-time, back to their bespoke inventory management system using a GPRS connection.  

The inventory system then processes the RFID data and accurately determines the location of the individual bundles to within 2 square meters 98.2% of the time. These locations are then updated by Exponent’s inventory system and graphically available on a map overlay to Age Steel Yard managers, as well as to Age Steel’s™ off-site offices, through Exponent’s Cloud-based platform, providing an unprecedented level of inventory accuracy.   

Twice a day, Exponent flew its UAV along a predetermined flight path that was designed to cover all locations within the yard.  It flew according to an autonomous flight plan that was pre-defined and loaded into the UAV’s flight computer, and exceeded all its design parameters.

Age Steel™ were extremely pleased with the results and will be the first company to employ Exponent’s  autonomous UAV based inventory tracking solution in the UAE starting in October 2014.

“We are impressed with how this innovative solution offered by Exponent has evolved from start to finish, adapting to our specific needs and challenges and look forward to implementing the system in our existing yard of 10,000 square meters with the future possibility of extending to our main yard of 65,000 square meters covering our entire range of products.  I am sure there are several companies such as ours in the UAE who would immensely benefit from this unique solution,” concluded Mr. Asim Siddiqui, Managing Director of Age Steel.

“Despite the strict requirements and the harsh nature of the yard environment, we are extremely satisfied that we were able to engineer a unique solution, which not only met our client’s needs, but surpassed all their expectations. This is in line with Exponent’s ethos of tackling niche challenges by integrating disparate technologies that many others fail to conceive” stated Asam Khan.   

 

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