Robotics trial simplifies materials handling

by Inside Logistics Online Staff
The Fetch Robotics unit can sense moving and static objects in its path and work around them.

The Finland-based marine and energy technology group Wärtsilä and its logistics partner DHL have completed a successful pilot using Fetch Robotics’s mobile robots. The pilot was carried out in Wärtsilä’s central distribution centre in Kampen, the Netherlands, where the entire logistics chain of spare parts, from order intake to customer delivery, is managed. DHL runs the warehouse operations.

The aim of the project was to investigate the application of technology innovations in the daily operations of the warehouse. Wärtsilä and DHL also wanted to gain more understanding of the added value of robotics in a warehouse environment and to learn about the human–technology interface between robots and employees.

Point-to-point materials handling

The mobile robot system simplifies point-to-point material handling. Workflows at Wärtsilä’s warehouse can be set up and modified very quickly to accommodate dynamic environments, without the need for complex programming. Workers can interact with the robots via touchscreen and send them on their journeys with a push of a button.

“Our [human] colleagues took centre stage during the trial. The robots are designed to work alongside employees and to relieve them from physically strenuous tasks,” said Denis Niezgoda, robotics accelerator lead at DHL customer solutions and innovation. “The robots alone took over a walking distance of more than 30 kilometres per day, thereby increasing productivity and safety within the warehouse working environment.”

The autonomous mobile robots have a load capacity of 78 kilograms and can travel at two metres per second. When the maximum battery life of nine hours comes to an end, the freight robot independently makes its way to the charging unit. The intelligent robots recognize their location and surroundings, and can differentiate between dynamic and static obstacles, thus enabling evasive action to work safely with and around people.

“Our relationship with DHL is a great accomplishment,” said Melonee Wise, CEO at Fetch Robotics. “We were able to deploy our robots in the facility in a matter of days, rapidly improve on-site productivity, while increasing the safety of the warehouse employees.”

“The pilot was a success and, as a result, we have decided to continue exploring and developing new applications of smart mobile robot technology,” said Anne Träskbäck, general manager, parts delivery at Wärtsilä Services. “Over the coming months, we will continue to trial different robot types and technologies together with our partners to further improve productivity, quality and safety in our operations. We have exciting times ahead. Working with robots means embracing a new change, and co-operating in new, productive ways in the future.”