This summer, Accucode created custom solutions with multiple technologies for one of America’s largest telecommunications companies. They provide wireless services nationwide, which means that they regularly purchase network components that are used to build and maintain up to 100,000 cell towers. Successfully growing their existing cellular infrastructure keeps them competitive, even at the top of the telecom game with other nationwide telecom companies. Network components for every region’s cell phone towers initially go through a couple of main central distribution centers. These initial distribution centers for the nation span 500,000+ square feet– almost 9 football fields! These distribution centers receive and distribute the network components to another 100+ regional distribution centers so that they’re accessible to regional contractors for installation in their areas.

The initial distribution centers don’t just receive each component and that’s the end of their process. Instead, they are responsible for tracking and reporting inventory distribution at each step– from national distribution, to regional distribution, to the hands of the contractor. At the scale of one of the world’s largest wireless companies, you can imagine that keeping track of each piece of inventory comes a lot of room for error. Accurate and consistent inventory counts and reporting are critical at every step of the way. That is why they need custom solutions with cutting edge technology to solve technological gaps that result in inaccuracy and lost inventory.

Growing Pains

When this company grew to the point that inventory was unmanageable without complete visibility and accuracy through automation they looked at every solution out there. They told us that they tried many and found that nothing out there could cut it as a complete, integratable solution. A complete solution meant visibility and tracking of every piece of equipment that comes to, is stored in, and leaves each warehouse. What they had before and current out-of-the-box technological applications and infrastructure simply wasn’t working or growing with them. That’s where our engineering expertise could create solutions using applications all of the technology at our fingertips for full visibility and accurate results.

There is no way that an out-of-the-box solution that would fit their needs in a scalable, repeatable way. By applying 25+ years of experience in inventory tracking technology specifically, we were the perfect fit for this telecom company’s warehouse inventory automation goals. We specialize in filling technological gaps in legacy systems successfully through clear timelines, engineering expertise, and transparent pricing at every step. In any industry, warehousing environments need to increase visibility, accuracy, and consistency in inventory counts and reports.

Businesses like this trust us because of our expertise and proven experience in applying new technologies to asset tracking. Specifically, our experience has included applying a combination of RFID, BLE, barcode tags, fast sensor technology, and AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) where appropriate in order to increase visibility and accuracy within the warehouse environment.

A Comprehensive Review

First, we provide an overall review of the entire inventory tracking solution they have in place currently– from current technologies, to legacy IT infrastructure. Then, we identify where we can fill in technological gaps. For example, this telecom company was specifically interested in using RFID capable, unmanned drones in all of their distribution warehouses, starting at the national level. The regulation allowing unmanned drone capabilities has been a recent focus of the tech industry. When the FAA’s new regulation allowing Unmanned Aircraft Systems finally came to fruition, this became our focus for automation solutions across industries. Combined with our experience in warehouse automation and asset tracking, it was the perfect time for Accucode to stand out and showcase our engineering capabilities as early adopters of technology. In this solution, drone technology (along with robotics such as Fetch robotics and 3D printing capabilities) keeps track of key inventory components that have RFID tags with a level of visibility and accuracy that the industry has never seen.

By listening to the company’s specific problem areas, and not assuming it is the same for everyone, we made recommendations for warehouse tracking solutions that included general requirements, an analysis of the best technologies that would fill gaps, and a prototype drone demonstration for warehouse inventories using RFID. We also understood and took into account that there are time constraints for big businesses. However, regardless of the overall project scope and timeline, the drone prototype and proof of concept was fast tracked to accommodate the set timelines.

Thus, we were able to provide one of the nation’s largest telecom companies with a set of recommendations and design for a system that provided this company with consistent, real-time, asset tracking within their warehouse operations. We provided specific recommendations for technology enhancements including networking, mobile computing, RFID, drones and other automated data collection technologies that ensured reliable tracking and visibility.

A Prototype for Sucess

After recommendations were accepted, the company requested that for one of the prototype solutions, we design and build a prototype drone to test the feasibility of operating a drone within their distribution center that is capable of collecting information on items in inventory. This prototype could be designed utilizing technologies such as RFID, BLE, or barcoding and review the potential of including 5G technology. This and other solutions identified in our recommendations were prototyped for this business specifically.

Prototype success resulted in an on-site, real world, proof of concept test of data collection solutions to test and demonstrate operational feasibility of the solutions in their warehouse environments. This proof of concept phase included selected technologies from the evaluation and prototype phases were implemented on a small scale. Once this was also successful and within timelines, we then moved onto full system construction, integration, and deployment.

In summary, Accucode provided the appropriate project management, business analysts, and engineering resources to complete each phase of the timeline set out. These steps included the high level requirements analysis of the current inventory receiving and management practices, design and build of a drone capable of reading RFID tags in a warehouse setting. We presented and demonstrated a prototype RFID drone capable of operating in a warehouse aisle to read RFID tagged labels. We provided a detailed solution design including definitions of materials, software, and pricing. We included meetings with key project stakeholders, potential technology partners such as Fetch Robotics, and others to determine key project requirements and expectations. Discussion may include reviewing the inventory receiving process, cycle counting, picking, transport, FSL processes, and installed inventory tracking with the primary understanding that this analysis will be focused on inventory within “the four walls”. Perhaps most importantly, we worked hand-in-hand with the company to determine the recommended hardware and process solutions to achieve their automation goals: complete visibility and accuracy of inventory counts and reporting.