DHL highlights success of sortation robot pilot

by Krystyna Shchedrina

DHL is celebrating the success of robotic integration at its Atlanta distribution centre.

The company partnered with Atlanta-based Dorabot, a robotics supplier, to pilot two types of sorting robots as part of a five-year US$100 million automation investment plan. 

In a media call, Scott Ashbaugh, vice-president of operations of e-commerce solutions, said Dorasorters process packages on average in 3.6 seconds, with a near a near-zero error rate. Both systems are equipped with a 3D scanner and can sort around 1,000 parcels per hour, with a maximum weight of 6.8 kilograms.

DHL says the sort-to-bag system increases labour efficiency by 80 percent.

Sort-to-gaylord

The sort-to-gaylord configuration has a proprietary drawer-shaped conveyor belt and sorts parcels into 20 60-inch-tall gayloard at once. When a package is manually or automatically inducted, the system scans the barcode and recognizes its size and destination.

The robot arm then picks up the parcel, sorting it into the correct container. The customized gripper was explicitly designed to recognize various sizes and weights to safely place it on the belt.  

The second robot works in a sort-to-bag system. It sorts items into 80 final-mile zip code batches. DHL said the unit increases  labour efficiency by 80 percent.

Twice the speed

Ashbaugh said these machines are twice as fast as the older generation ones, explaining that the scanners and other newly developed technology increase employees’ efficiency, making their time even more valuable. He added that while humans can perform such repetitive tasks, sorting 50 to 70 parcels an hour, the machine handles 200 to 500 packages per hour before the bagging process.  

Ashbaugh also highlighted that Dorasorters are designed to handle smaller e-commerce items. And even though some might be concerned the damage might occur while the parcels fall from the belt to the bag or container, he said there had been no reports of damaged parcels. He  said the slide angle lets the items stay completely in touch with the slide until reaching into the bag or container, and the drop is small.  

Spencer Deng, CEO of Dorabot, said in a press release that the Dorasorters are essentially like owning power tools that allow DHL eCommerce Solutions to improve the output by a factor up to four and perform important tasks with greater efficiency.  

Klaus Dohrmann, DHL’s VP for innovation Europe and trend research, said that, of course, logistics is a ‘people’ business, and it is not changing anytime soon. However, the robots help to augment human talent, working side by side with people, not instead of them. This provides opportunities not only for volume growth but also minimizes injuries and errors while letting employees focus on other meaningful tasks.