DHL Supply Chain will be starting a pilot program using warehouse robots from Locus Robotics in late July, at Memphis facility servicing a medical device customer, with plans to expand into ecommerce fulfillment shortly thereafter should the test prove a success.
Adrian Kumar, vice president of solutions for DHL Supply Chain, said the company decided to pilot the robots at a facility that fit the profile for testing out the technology.
“The robots will navigate pick paths, replace carts,” Kumar said. “They won’t have to follow a picker around. They’ll act as extensions of our WMS and follow its commands from location to location. The pickers will see orders on an iPad screen on the robot, displaying the items and quantity they want the operator to pick into a tote attached to the robot.”
Kumar said one big advantage of using Locus will be saving steps for pickers who can stay in one zone, reducing travel time and thus increasing productivity. The robot moves to them, and they pick an order when they see its lights flashing.
“If we’re happy with the productivity gains we’ll start utilizing in other proposals for potential new business opportunities that are more in the retail and e-fulfillment sector,” Kumar said.
Kumar said he liked the fact that Locus was not a “black box” solution but works within DHL’s existing infrastructure, and that the entry point was less than other automation systems. “Traditional automation solutions have their own control system and logic, including how it sequences picks,” he said. “Because this is an extension of the WMS it’s more like a moving RF gun that brings goods to person. We also expect savings on the integration costs.”
He said he doesn’t see Locus replacing warehouse workers, but rather augmenting them, as well as filling in gaps when they can’t find enough hires.
“It’s hard to get people in very labor-intensive operations,” Kumar said. “The labor requirements are increasing as we handle more omnichannel orders. So it becomes more challenging to find enough people to do the work. Locus will help us make that aspect of our operations more productive, not necessarily replacing people.”