12 May 2022

Spending the Night With a customer

It happens. As engineers, we do our best to ask the right questions, anticipate the unexpected, and solve corner cases. This practice continues from design and development phases, through testing and deployment. Yet, there’s nothing like seeing your brand new robotic solution pull its weight during the thick of production. When production happens in the wee hours of the night, the best way to observe it is to partake in the experience. So, yes, from time to time, we spend the night with a customer.

Strange things happen at night in the world of supply chain, eCommerce fulfillment and distribution centers. In many ways, production mirrors what goes on during the day. But, for some reason, newly systems encounter their fair share of challenges that are confined to the wee hours. Whether it’s related to a new shift of operators or the magnetic pull of the moon, unanticipated system events seem drawn to late night.

At Dorabot, we believe that the success of every solution hinges on customer experience. We may personally find ourselves in awe of our intelligently engineered systems, but if the customer is less than fully satisfied then we too are unsatisfied. Each member of our engineering team shares this sense of dedication. Nothing is more rewarding than to see a new solution reap the rewards our customer anticipates. 

Periodically, a nighttime manager or third shift operations leader leers skeptically at the new robot whose deployment is intended to help their department succeed. It’s understandable. Human nature is such that we all share a knee-jerk response to resist that which is new. Even highly autonomous systems require some degree of operator responsibility. Often times, that means the overseeing manager in a warehouse, fulfillment center or DC bears some new responsibilities.

During one new installation, Ran, a Dorabot lead project & system engineer, was assigned to  work closely with our customer’s eCommerce nighttime shift operations manager. Gene (a pseudonym) disagreed with his management team’s decision to opt for the new DoraSorter. The project was greenlighted to help supplement the labor required for sortation tasks performed around the clock. While the daytime operators embraced the new system, Gene didn’t have the same level of system understanding. One reason for such a misalignment could be that installation and deployment are often done during the daytime hours. Therefore those crews more quickly become familiar with a new system.

After a few late-night sessions of Ran showing Gene the ins and outs of the DoraSorter solution, Gene slowly changed his opinion. Today, he’s one of Dorabot’s greatest advocates.  

“He turned from being skeptical and even rejecting the system, to persuading his team to embrace our training sessions and develop additional methods and procedures to further leverage the value of our system [The DoraSorter],” said Ran. “Everything changed once he became comfortable with the system and experienced the benefits of using it. Now Gene is constantly brainstorming about where else his company should add automation.”

It took one night with Ran and other engineers to remove the fear of the unknown by providing hands-on training and knowledge. We see this frequently. Operators begin with resistance, but quickly become advocates once they understand the nature of their interaction with the Dorabot solution. It helps when they see that we have their backs. That we are always a phone call away. 

“Dorabot will always make sure that our support is top-notch. What’s equally important is that we invest sufficient time and resources to train people correctly. We realize that the best way to provide a fulsome solution is to marry it with outstanding customer support,” said Ran.

Seeing is believing. While robots are becoming more common in logistics, not everyone is on board with the benefits. Embracing a new solution takes time and dedication. In some cases, it takes spending the night with a customer. 

“By using robotics at our Miami facility to automate, and in some cases eliminate, time-consuming tasks, it frees up our operations staff for more value-adding tasks,” said Richard Saavedra, VP and General Manager at DHL Express (Southeast). “Overall, this robotic implementation enhances our ability to maintain a consistent shipment processing rate while managing volume surges. The application is demonstrating a real level of success and paves the way for additional implementations.”

In essence the system works like this. Powerful AI coding drives the robotic arm to quickly sort packages into separate delivery bins that sit on racks surrounding the robot. Each bin, or tote, represents an individual courier route. For this deployment, the DHL team uses a unique, custom-made design for the robot. The robot’s end of arm tool is a mini conveyor belt with the shape of a tray. When it meets up at the end of a conveyor, the handoff to receive each parcel is effortless. While traveling the conveyor belt, 3D and barcode cameras scan the package, informing the robot about the package’s location – the bin that is the discreet destination.

This process helps couriers focus on other activities that allow for greater efficiency, such as loading packages onto their vehicles for last-mile deliveries. “The successful collaboration with DHL has proves that AI and robotics are ‘must have’ technologies for the enhancement strategy of logistics companies,” said Spencer Deng, Dorabot CEO.

COVID-19 continues to accelerate changes in the logistics industry, especially when it comes to automation and digitalization in the workplace. During the pandemic, robots allow for greater social distancing without affecting a service center’s productivity. From its Americas Innovation Center in Rosemont, Illinois, DHL exhibits some of the new technology and logistics innovations that the company is implementing. The Innovation Center has a team that focuses on uncovering and promoting tools that will lead the way to create the future of logistics and supply chain solutions. They offer their expertise to customers who seek such advancements, while also educating internal stakeholders looking for high tech solutions.

“The DHL Americas Innovation Center is dedicated to bringing impactful solutions to our vast network of operations, enabling significant benefits and process optimization. Our robotics sort solutions allow us to handle greater volumes while maintaining the high service levels our customers know and love, particularly during a time where peak volumes are constant and labor is in high demand,” said Ben Perlson, Innovation Manager at DHL. “The e-commerce explosion has made robotics and automation a more important tool than ever – a necessity to support our customers’ business operations.”

Approximately 13,000 customers engage with the DHL Innovation Centers globally per annum, and robotics and automation consistently ranks as one of the most sought-after trends. This technology presents clear opportunities to bolster operations and unlock new efficiencies, in addition to improving the wellbeing and safety of warehouse employees.
Over the past year, DHL has announced other advances in robotic deployments. The DHL Supply Chain division announced an expanded partnership with Locus Robotics to implement 1,000 additional LocusBots to support 12 DHL sites in North America in 2020. These robots assist in piece-picking order fulfillment in warehouses, navigating autonomously to quickly locate and transport pick items to associates.

Visit dhl.com/innovationcenter to learn more about how DHL is bringing innovative solutions to its customers. To watch the Dorabot in action at the DHL Miami Service Center, visit https://youtu.be/903yN0AE7FA.