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What’s behind the robot boom in warehousing?

DHL is increasingly relying on warehouse robots. Robots take the strain for humans and increase the efficiency of order picking operations. Key drivers to this type of digitalization are the pandemic and e-commerce.

Warehouse robots: Making things faster and smarter

With booming online trade keeping freight volumes high, more digitalization in warehouses and freight centers is key to speeding up delivery processes. Smooth and intelligent processes are also needed to ensure that the supply chain is economical and robust – not only during the pandemic but also afterwards. Warehouse robots make things easier for order picking staff in many ways, as DHL’s EffiBOT and Sawyer robots have proven in DHL's freight centers.

Now thousands of picking robots are set to make DHL Supply Chain even more efficient.

DHL Supply Chain plans to deploy up to 2,000 picking robots worldwide by 2022. DPDHL’s business unit that specializes in contract logistics has reached an agreement with US-based Locus Robotics that will make DHL Supply Chain Locus Robotics’ largest customer. DHL Supply Chain’s experience to date with assisted picking robots in its commercial operations has been very positive. Some of the benefits are:

  1. time spent picking with pushcarts in warehouses is reduced
  2. the robots do the physically demanding work, not the picking teams
  3. the robots are easy to operate.

As result, staff show high levels of acceptance towards the cobots.

Assisted picking robots (in the center of the picture) reduce the time required for picking in warehouses.
Assisted picking robots (in the center of the picture) reduce the time required for picking in warehouses.

Driving efficiency with robots: Here's how

Assisted picking robots are mostly used in e-commerce or consumer warehouses to help pick and replenish inventory. A display shows which goods need to be picked. Conveniently, the robots calculate the best routes through the warehouses.

The EffiBOT, which is in use at DHL Freight, accompanies the order pickers through the aisles. “When employees pick orders manually, their carts become very heavy,” explains Andreas Stapper, Site Development Manager, DHL Supply Chain. The EffiBOT makes their job easier. “It can carry heavy loads through the facilities,” says Ben Perlson, Innovation Project Manager, Americas, DHL Customer Solution & Innovation.

When the EffiBOT is full, it moves automatically to the delivery point, where an empty EffiBOT is standing by, waiting to seamlessly replace the first one. Sensor technology prevents the EffiBOT from colliding with people or objects.

See how the Effibot makes employees’ lives easier at DHL:

Sawyer, a one-armed collaborative robot, picks shipments. It relieves employees of repetitive work, freeing them up and take care of more complex tasks

Another bonus: The automatic helpers are quiet

The RoboVac, an automated vacuum cleaner, keeps warehouses clean. Depending on the technology, it uses UV light to ensure cleanliness and a germ-free environment. Quiet and automatically controlled, it protects employees’ hearing and frees them for other tasks.

The one-armed picking robot Sawyer relieves colleagues in DHL freight centers of monotonous work.
The one-armed picking robot Sawyer relieves colleagues in DHL freight centers of monotonous work.

High-tech at the Terminal for the Future: The future is already here

DHL Freight has been using a whole range of autonomous, intelligent vehicles and automated machines for a while now. These include Effibot, Sawyer, RoboVac, and forklifts that weigh their loads in real-time: Digitalization projects in freight centers provide benefits almost immediately. Learn more about this with “Terminal for the Future” – a learning tool that ses infographics, pop-ups, and videos to illustrate how automation and smart systems create greater efficiency and sustainability.

Uwe BrinksFirst and foremost, customers expect us to do our core business – quickly, reliably, and on time. Digitization creates new transparency and hence opportunities to increase efficiency for us and our customers.

Uwe Brinks, CEO DHL Freight

Digitization in logistics: better planning with software

DHL Supply Chain is constantly assessing which of the implemented technologies will make its way into its warehouses permanently and further optimize processes. Robots are only one part of this. DHL Supply Chain also relies on software and cockpit solutions. These provide real-time information on the status of the global service logistics network. Accessing the pool of big data and implementing algorithms and artificial intelligence has proven to be a “game changer” in global supply chain planning and will be rolled out further.

Robots in logistics: the trends

Several factors are increasing the demands on intralogistics, the flow of materials within a company:

  1. the e-commerce boom
  2. more complex and more sensitive supply chains
  3. the COVID-19 pandemic

This reinforces the trend towards automation and networking in warehousing and/or freight centers. When investing in this field, logistics professionals can expect the following benefits:

  1. optimal use of storage facilities
  2. better route-planning inside warehouses
  3. perfect tracking of goods
  4. improving safety and occupational health in the warehouse
  5. making warehouse processes more transparent and faster
  6. reducing energy consumption

These new technologies drive digitalization:

  1. Automated guided vehicles that are fast, reliable, and safe.
  2. Robots that are becoming more sensitive and more powerful. Autonomous, flexible gripping is now possible, allowing additional applications in order picking such as packing colli - hand in hand with humans.
  3. Artificial intelligence that opens up further fields of application and minimizes processing errors.
  4. New, easy-install-robot systems that can be integrated into existing systems, thus improving a company’s flow of data.

Digitalizing warehouses and freight-centers: Find out more

Infographic: Terminal for the Future

Smart warehouse with internet-of-things technology

Logistcs after the virus

DHL: Innovation in action

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