Smartx UAV/Drone-enabled returnable container management in a Warehouse


“Precise inventory management” is the key to growth for a business. Increasingly, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - also known as drones - are becoming an attractive technology to help achieve these goals.

This white article will illustrate how visibility technologies such as RFID mounted UAV(s) can alleviate the pain points for manufacturers and enable highly efficient business processes that ultimately lead to a reduced cost of ownership for returnable containers in the supply chain.

UAVs will extend and amplify what humans are already doing by adding aerial asset visibility.

Solution to a chronic and wasteful Logistic Problem

Some parts or items are stored, shipped and consumed using returnable containers in the warehouse. These containers range in size from not much bigger than a shoebox to pallet-sized for larger parts. The inventory of these RTI(s) normally demands several days and personnel efforts.

The challenge has been finding an effective way to track, count and manage RTI asset in the logistic yard and warehouse. Units are often used by non-owners with little accountability, so accurate manual audits can be neglected. Another issue is that shrinkage can reach 25% annually as RTIs are damaged, lost, stockpiled or simply cycled inefficiently.That results in additional purchases and larger-than-optimal inventories just to avoid shortfalls and downtime.

Automating the management of RETURNABLE TRANSPORT ITEMS (RTIs) means all companies can be held accountable for the units that pass through their facilities, so shrinkage and other losses can be curtailed, cycle times can be optimized and RTI inventories can be right-sized and lean.


RFID-Mounted Drones is a UAV solution ideally suited to meet the challenges of RTI asset management, enabling the real-time tracking of each individual RTI asset in a large logistic sites or warehouse.

Each RTI is equipped with a unique, durable Smart TAG (RFID passive or beacon) that identifies the type and size of the unit, as well as the date it was placed in service and other essential data you need to monitor. RFID tags are available in many form factors, from adhesive-backed tags to tags specifically designed for ideal application and performance on metal RTIs.

The RFID-equipped UAV flies near or above RTI(s), which are marked with unique Tags, and collects data.

Once an RFID-Mounted Drones-enabled RTI solution is in place, information on the tags can be automatically captured whenever the unit is within a range of a Drone reader. Error-prone paper processes are replaced with highly accurate data capture processes – including a complete audit trail for regulatory and contractual compliance.

The UAV-RFID capacity does not require line of sight. Multiple RTI(s) can be read simultaneously without any human intervention. By completely automating the tracking of RTIs, you get an accurate count of RTIs at any known point in the Warehouse, in real time. For some, UAV means greatly improved inventory and tracking accuracy. For others, it can mean having access to inventory data that was never available before because it was simply too costly to generate.

UAV as a Service ®

Aerial Intelligent Asset Inventory and Monitoring

Smartx delivers scalable cloud-based solutions that leverage an extensive Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network that includes passive RFID, GPS and cellular technologies to capture and share real-time information in your supply chain players.

Smartx Hub systems is a Complete Smart Cloud Solution for Scanning RFID, Bluetooth, Wearable & Smart Sensors with any commercial grade UAV/Drone.

The asset management application generates a variety of important alerts whenever things do not happen as planned. Typical examples of alerts and escalations are that a given returnable container has not moved in the system for a certain number of days. As we have discussed, this can trigger an inquiry when containers are out-of-location or wrong workflow.

The data management of returnable containers in the asset management application allows for the use of standard reports as well as for custom report development.

Conclusion and outlook

Detailed knowledge of how returnable containers move through the system allows reliable assessment of how many returnable containers are needed and helps reduce inventory as well as avoid excessive spending for the next program.

The true value lies in the visibility that UAV+RFID provides seeing inventory whether in motion in a yard or in stock at all times. UAV(s) can fly, sense the Tags and transfer the data to the Platform. Based on this, the Smartx Hub know exactly when and where an item was last seen.

The UAV as a Service ® and asset management application to returnable container tracking is just a first step. Several applications that can be built on top of returnable container tracking to leverage its infrastructure and its advantages even further. In this white paper, we have briefly outlined some of these capabilities, such as aerial volumes inventory. However, the UAV as a Service(r) application along with RFID technology can be used beyond that for manufacturing or yard and remote sensor telemetry.

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