DHL Dials Up Robotics Investment As Delivery Timeframes Shrink

In a bid to improve speed and logistics, German courier firm DHL announced on Wednesday (June 2) that it is expanding its partnership with Locus Robotics as it strives to find faster ways to ensure that the correct package gets to the right location, on time and undamaged.

In materials provided to PYMNTS, DHL’s logistics and supply chain unit said that in 2022, it would double the number of “picking robots” to be deployed from Locus, up from an initial 1,000 robots to be deployed by the end of this year.

The robots, which can be used in eCommerce and warehouse settings to aid in inventory picking and stock replenishment, would boost a 500-robot fleet already in use by DHL (with an incremental 500 robots slated to come online this year).  DHL has noted that the effort will reduce maneuvering pushcarts through the warehouses and reduces physical strain on warehouse employees.

“Assisted picking robots display images of goods to be picked, calculate optimal navigation routes and reduce required training time. Also, they can be swiftly integrated into the warehouse system landscape via DHL Supply Chain’s Robotics Hub,” the firm said.

In a separate blog post, DHL said that “logistics robots are diversifying and achieving proficiency that matches and exceeds human capabilities. Upgraded with enhanced hardware and developments in AI, new devices have human-like dexterity, improved vision and quick, agile movement.” Robots, the company said, can improve productivity by up to 50 percent with point-to-point (P2P) transport and by up to 150 percent with assisted order picking (as seen in eCommerce).

Eying Amazon And Shrinking Delivery Windows

As reported in this space last year, Amazon has been ramping up the pressure on logistics chains throughout eCommerce, as delivery windows get ever shorter.

In an interview with Karen Webster, Adrian Kumar, global head of operations, science and analytics at DHL Supply Chain, said that better inventory management is critical as “supply chains are now on the front line” of keeping end customers satisfied. “The accuracy of inventory needs to be really strong. If you’re taking orders on the website for items that you don’t have inventory for, because the inventory is not accurate or it’s in the wrong location, there will be a lot of work on the [packing] floor that can’t get through the next phase of the process … everything gets held up.”

Efficiency is boosted by robotic solutions that work as companions to pickers and back-office artificial intelligence (AI).  With a  specific nod to Locus,Kumar said, “it’s very challenging to pick [and fulfill] orders if you don’t have some type of optimization software or robotics. If you just send an order to the floor without any kind of massaging or manipulation to that order, you’re inevitably going to walk a mile to pick that order, and all the other orders, too … and it’s not sustainable.”

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