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DHL Expands Autonomous Mobile Robot Deployments in its Warehouses

DHL's Supply Chain group is expanding its partnership with autonomous mobile robot (AMR) maker Locus Robotics to deploy more warehouse robots in its fulfillment and distribution centers, the two companies announced this week. DHL's worldwide contract logistics provider is adding 10 new deployments of the Locus AMRs in 2020.

DHL Supply Chain North America and Locus Robotics partnered in 2017 to pilot a collaborative, autonomous robotics solution called LocusBots to support associates in piece picking order fulfilment in warehouses. The LocusBots navigate autonomously within warehouses to locate and transport "pick" items to associates.

Order picking is the process of selecting items from warehouse inventory to fulfill orders placed by customers, often via online purchases. It's the fundamental task in a warehouse, the basis of the workflow and the most labor-intensive and expensive process in the business. Traditionally, workers fulfill those orders by walking down long warehouse aisles, finding the items ordered, "picking" them off the shelves and loading them onto a cart, and bringing them back to the packing station for shipment to the customers. It's a repetitive task, not loved by workers, and ripe for automation.

It's also a perfect job for mobile industrial robots—both AMRs and collaborative robots, or "co-bots," which accompany workers as they walk the warehouse aisled.

The Locus Robotics machines roam the warehouse aisles solo. They can be deployed to support a diverse range of picking strategies, significantly reducing time spent on routine or physically demanding tasks, the company says, reducing manual errors and increasing productivity.

DHL Supply Chain successfully deployed Locus machines in its life sciences and retail warehouses a few years ago, explained Jim Gehr, president of the company' retail group in North America, in a statement. That deployment produced an 80% increase in "fulfillment productivity" in the selected operations.

"We now see an opportunity to extend the benefits of utilizing their highly flexible AMR solution at scale for customers across multiple sectors," Gehr said. "We look forward to continuing to work with Locus to drive productivity, support capacity growth and deliver continuous improvement within our customers' supply chains nationwide."

Last year, DHL announced plans to invest $300 million to modernize 60% of it warehouses in North America with IoT sensors and robots. By the end of 2019, roughly 20% of DHL facilities across North America had picking robots deployed  on the warehouse floors. The funds are earmarked to bring emerging technology to 350 of DHL Supply Chain's 430 operating sites.

Last month, Wilmington, Mass-based Lucas Robotics crossed the 100 million units picked milestone. Locus is the first company to reach this mark in the warehouse AMR industry's history, the company says. The record-breaking 100 millionth pick took place at the DHL Supply Chain fulfillment facility in Hanover, PA on February 4.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at jwaters@converge360.com.


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