02 December 2021

What COVID taught us about robotics and logistics ?

In a pandemic, where the ability to minimize human interaction is a high priority, robotics and artificial intelligence are crucial tools for sustaining the economy. For most of us, this was our first experience of a global pandemic. So, who could blame us for not being ready to handle the full force of its impact? 

COVID-19 taught us numerous things about ourselves and the world around us. 2020 forced us to slow down and reflect. This process of reflecting extended beyond our personal lives and into the workplace. The concept of implementing robotics in logistics is not new, but the speed at which it’s happening is accelerating. The move towards increased automation in eCommerce, fulfillment, warehousing and distribution centers (DCs) was well on its way before COVID. However, this disease has created a new, apparently sustainable, sense of urgency.

In the robotics sector, there continues to be a renewed thirst for novel solutions. Here is what COVID taught us: 

Be Flexible and Adapt

Adapting to the situation can be the defining factor between success or failure in any crisis. Conducting business during a time of uncertainty takes flexibility. COVID has taught us that finding solutions that keep people safe and keep business flowing is imperative. In fulfillment centers and DCs, robots working alongside warehouse workers have led to a multitude of unique solutions that kept workers safe by reducing human-to-human interaction.

Prioritize Health 

The health and wellness of the workforce is essential. Noticeably, companies that put their employees at risk face a higher turnover rate. It’s also true that risking the health of an employee also jeopardizes the health of the business. At Dorabot, we see our role as imperative to supporting the wellbeing of the people who serve as the backbone of the logistics industry. Providing the resources required to help people do their jobs effectively is fundamental to achieving success. 

COVID illuminated the importance of caring for warehouse workers and finding innovative ways to keep them safe – and productive. Great leadership includes taking on the responsibility to not only achieve business goals but to provide a healthy and fertile environment for personnel at the same time. COVID taught us all that being proactive about health and wellbeing is a far better strategy than being reactive.

Leverage Technology

During the height of the outbreak, we depended heavily on our computers, wifi, and virtual networking tools, like Zoom. So effective is this new normal for collaborative working that it appears to be here to stay. COVID has taught us that with the abundance of available technology, businesses can function at full speed during a global pandemic. This approach is also relevant to the robotics industry. 

At Dorabot, we believe that robotic automation is more than a “nice to have” for people who work in logistics and supply chains – it’s a necessity. We saw that third-party logistics (3PLs) and fulfillment centers were especially vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of a global pandemic and that robots play a vital role in the development of a sustainable business model. We’ve long ago entered the era of robotic automation becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. Robots cannot contract and spread diseases, and for this reason, they help to keep employees safe. But beyond safety, it’s robotic solutions that are best suited to promote employee wellness, not just disease-free, but safer from the perils of a potentially dangerous work environment.

“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 has enhanced our ability to maintain a consistent shipment processing rate while managing volume surges. The application has demonstrated success and paves the way for additional implementations as a way forward in our current environment.”
The powerful AI enables the robotic arm to quickly sort packages into separate delivery bins that sit on racks surrounding the robot, each representing an individual courier route. For this deployment, the DHL team utilized a unique, custom-made design for the robot. The Dorabot hand is shaped like the DHL bin, where it meets up at the end of a conveyor belt to receive each package. While traveling the conveyor belt, 3D and barcode cameras scan the package, informing the robot about the package’s location and which bin is the targeted 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 again proved that AI and robotics are ‘must have’ technologies for the enhancement strategy of logistics companies,” said Spencer Deng, Dorabot CEO.
COVID-19 has also driven changes in the logistics industry, which includes the acceleration of innovation, automation and digitalization in the workplace. During the pandemic, robotics allowed for greater social distancing without affecting the service center’s productivity. From its Americas Innovation Center in Rosemont, Illinois, DHL exhibits the technologies and innovations in logistics that the company is already implementing across the region, and its team drives the development of future logistics and supply chain solutions while serving as a regional platform for collaborative innovation with customers.
“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 solution allows 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 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: its 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.
Go to dhl.com/innovationcenter to learn more about how DHL is driving innovative solutions for its customers. To watch the Dorabot in action at the DHL Miami Service Center, visit https://youtu.be/903yN0AE7FA.