DHL Supply Chain, a logistics division of DHL, today announced it will invest $300 million to modernize 60 percent of its warehouses in North America with more IoT sensors and robots. Robotic process automation, and software made to reduce workflow interruptions will also play a role.
Such technology is already in operation in 85 DHL facilities, or roughly 20 percent of warehouses across North America. Funding announced today will bring emerging technology to 350 of DHL Supply Chain’s 430 operating sites. The company has more than 35,000 employees in North America.
Robots from companies like Locus Robotics that were made to collaborate with humans to fulfill orders are currently being used in some of DHL’s more modern facilities, but no specific vendor or company has been selected to supply robots as part of the new initiative, DHL Supply Chain North America CEO Scott Sureddin told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
Conversations are ongoing with more than 25 robotics and process automation industry leaders, DHL Supply Chain president of retail Jim Gehr said. DHL Supply Chain warehouse robots will work primarily with unit picking operations and will be able to complete a range of tasks, from collaborative piece picking, to shuttling items from one side of a factory to another, to following human packers.
“With collaborative robots, we have seen increases in picking productivity by over 100 percent increase, and those are gains we had not seen in the prior decade,” Gehr said.
A DHL Supply Chain innovation center for research and exploration of ideas surrounding the future of the supply chain industry is scheduled to open outside Chicago in September 2019 and will compliment existing innovation centers in Europe and Asia. The new center will work with its counterparts in other parts of the world, but robot trials will continue to take place inside facilities in operation today.
“When it’s time to do a pilot, we really have to do that on the operating floor out there in a warehouse so we can kind of report back, share our different findings with them, and then they can pick and choose what they want to display in the innovation center for customers and things like that,” Gehr said.