DHL taking on 2,000 fulfillment robots

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

DHL Supply Chain says it plans to add up to 2,000 order fulfillment robots in the next year as part of its digitization strategy.

The multi-million dollar buy will be with Locus Robotics, which produces assisted picking robots that are mostly used in e-commerce or consumer warehouses to help with picking and inventory replenishment.

The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce, which makes the labour-intensive picking process in order fulfillment even more critical in meeting customer demand. These trends accelerated the introduction of new technologies and automation in various industries, but especially in warehousing.

According to Markus Voss, DHL Supply Chain’s global CIO and COO, there are already 500 of the bots in use in the company’s warehouses in the USA, Europe and the UK, and another 500 will arrive by the end of 2021.

“The collaborative picking technology has clearly proven its effectiveness and reliability in modern warehousing. More locations have already been identified with concrete implementation roadmaps for the remaining robots, which we will deploy in 2022,” he said.

“However, the overall potential for assisted picking robots in our DHL warehouses is much bigger, so we are confident that we will meet the targets we have set ourselves together with Locus Robotics.”

Robot-to-person model

Assisted picking robots are integrated with the Warehouse Management System. They navigate their way to the picking location and display information on the item to be picked by the operator. Once the item has been placed in the bin the robots autonomously drive off to the next target location. The robots also come with “machine-learning” capabilities to calculate the most efficient travel route.

By moving from worker to worker, the robots help reduce time spent on maneuvering pushcarts through warehouses, lower physical strain on employees, and increase picking efficiency.

They are easy to integrate into the warehouse system, and are well received by staff. During peak periods additional robots can be added to boost capacity.

“Our expanded partnership with DHL reflects the increasing demand for warehouse digitization worldwide to meet today’s exploding fulfillment challenges,” said Rick Faulk, CEO, Locus Robotics.

“Locus is proud to be a valued technology resource that is helping DHL realize their strategic vision of digital transformation.”