Helping the logistics giant integrate and use robots faster
Contract logistics division DHL Supply Chain has teamed up with Microsoft and Blue Yonder, the world’s largest independent supply chain software company, to develop a warehouse robotics platform.
The project aims to reduce integration time and programming efforts for new automation devices entering the warehouse, by supporting a variety of robotics vendors in a single system.
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The unnamed robotics platform is powered by Blue Yonder’s Luminate, which enables ML-driven task management capabilities, and runs across Microsoft Azure cloud platform and Internet of Things devices.
So far, the platform has only been deployed at a single DHL Supply Chain site, out of potential 2,000. But the company claims it has seen a 60 percent reduction in integration times at its Madrid location, and expects up to 90 percent improvement in the future.
“We know how complex, time-consuming and costly it can be to integrate new robots into existing platforms and connect to our clients’ various warehouse management systems,” Markus Voss, global CIO and COO at DHL Supply Chain, said. “This is exactly where the new platform is so effective.”
He added: “The global deployment of robots and robotic systems is integral to our strategy to support our employees and improve customer operations. Automation and collaborative robotics help us make operational processes more flexible, ergonomic, and more attractive to our employees by replacing monotonous, repetitive, and particularly strenuous activities.”
Voss claims that “the aim is not to replace employees over time, but to assign the more attractive and interesting tasks to our human workforce.” The DHL subsidiary has suffered from high staff turnover at numerous locations, public records show - but it is not clear how much of this can be attributed to automation, and how much is a result of the business' reliance on contracts with third parties.
DHL hopes that this platform will enable it to keep existing customers, and win more, by giving businesses more flexibility in selecting suitable robotics systems according to their individual needs.
“Building a resilient and flexible supply chain is essential to respond to constantly changing customer needs,” Sam George, CVP Azure IoT at Microsoft, said. “By digitizing their warehouse solutions, DHL is dramatically simplifying the integration of complex IoT systems and unlocking new business opportunities for the logistics industry.
“The result: greater advancements in speed, global scale, cost reduction, and security.”
Last month, Microsoft announced that it would partner with FedEx to develop supply chain AI tools for the logistics company's network. FedEx Surround aims to improve analytical capabilities and enable near real-time tracking of goods.
The DHL project “was a true collaboration across all stakeholders,” Girish Rishi, CEO of Blue Yonder said. He added that the company’s Luminate Platform enabled DHL “to offer a solution that can be implemented across all of its distribution center sites seamlessly through a cloud SaaS application.
“In the age of labor market shortages during peak season, DHL sites can now bring on a robotics vendor quickly to augment its resource capacity and support its workforce.”