DHL pilots robots for warehousing operations

DHL is piloting the use of collaborative robots in “co-packing” and “value-added” tasks, aiming to roll these out in places that have been traditionally hard to automate.

A statement from the company said it had been testing Rethink Robotics’ Baxter and Sawyer models of robot, which have small payloads, come to a halt when met with a small amount of force, and are designed to be safe to work around.

“The logistics industry has been unable to leverage smart, collaborative robots until recently,” said Markus Kückelhaus, Vice President Innovation and Trend Research, DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation, in the release.

It said it was testing how to integrate the robots at DHL sites around the world.

“…we plan to deploy them in a variety of packaging and inventory tasks that will allow us to use our employees for higher value work,” Adrian Kumar of DHL Supply Chain said.

The high variability of warehousing environments has made them difficult to automate with robots. Rethink and other collaborative robots are designed to be simple to reprogram, and can be “trained” by hand by those with no programming experience.

Within manufacturing environments, the robot maker has said it aims to exploit the estimated nine-tenths of tasks that have so far been impossible to automate.

Third-party logistics had emerged as a surprisingly popular area for the company’s robots, founder Dr Rodney Brooks told Manufacturers’ Monthly last year.

The most recent of the two kinds of robot offered by Rethink, the single-armed Sawyer, launched in Australia in January.