How tech for show business can automate IKEA warehouses

By teaming up with the founders of Amazon Robotics, IKEA wants to look into how tech incubated in show-business can transform IKEA’s supply chain. We talked to Olof and Raffaello to find out how the technology behind drone performances in Metallica and Celine Dion concerts can be used to improve accuracy in warehouses and stores.

Logistics developer Olof Orstadius is walking down the aisle in a warehouse. In long lines, pallet after pallet in rack after rack, stored products are waiting to be shipped to an IKEA store. The concrete floor and the pallets are dampening Olof’s steps as he is walking around explaining how manual work can be both time-consuming, non-ergonomic, repetitive and also a source of errors.

“Imagine the time being spent, making sure that the pallets are in the right place and containing the right products. On top of that, we also need to keep track of how many products each pallet contains,” says Olof.

Olof Orstadius.

As Logistics developer, his work is to explore and find the right level of automation to incorporate into the logistics throughout the IKEA supply chain. With more than 440 stores and 80 warehouses globally, there are of course opportunities for improvement.

“We always want to secure product availability for our customers and also create a better ergonomic workplace for our co-workers. With automation, our co-workers can focus on value-adding tasks,” Olof says.

So, on the journey to find new, innovative solutions, IKEA teamed up with Verity, known for their drone light shows and a global leader in autonomous drone systems. Together, IKEA and Verity performed successful pilot tests for an automated drone solution for warehouse inventory checks. Scaled up, this solution has the potential to greatly reduce the many working hours required to manually check inventory.

Raffaello D’Andrea.

“The system consists of a set of autonomous drones that take off from a charging station and go from pallet to pallet collecting images, videos and 3D depth scan data,” says Raffaello D’Andrea, Verity’s founder and one of the founders of Amazon Robotics.

After flying around racks and pallets, the drones fly back to the charging station to download all the data they collected.

”Algorithms then extract actionable insights. For example, one location was supposed to have a pallet, but the pallet was missing. Another location had a pallet, but it was the wrong one,” says Raffaello.

Verity’s autonomous indoor drone systems have, for example, been used in live events and at concerts to create lighting effects through advanced flight patterns with dozens of drones. Flying around and at times above crowds of people means safety is a requirement.

“This is the technology we want to bring to IKEA warehouses and stores. Automation is progressing and developing very fast, and the fully automated drone solution that we have been developing together with Verity is a good example of this,” says Olof.

What are the main benefits of automation of warehouse inventory checks?
“Instead of manually checking the pallets using paper and pen, the solution is making the data collection digital through a camera and other sensors. The whole process is done autonomously during the night or between shifts, by the drones. This will increase the inventory accuracy and help us show our customers what’s in stock at a certain IKEA store today,” says Olof.