Worldwide delivery service DHL is deploying artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles and product-picking robots at its warehouses in North America to help handle the surge in e-commerce demand.
The U.S. unit of Deutsche Post AG will spend $300 million on its plan to equip 350 of its 430 facilities with new technology that includes autonomous trolleys that shadow human workers and robots that can pick and sort products by themselves, said Scott Sureddin, chief executive officer of DHL Supply Chain North America.
“The maturity of the technology in this area has really improved, so it’s given us an opportunity to make a larger investment,” Sureddin said in an interview Wednesday.
DHL, which ceased its domestic U.S. parcel service in 2008, is competing with companies including United Parcel Service Inc., FedEx Corp. and XPO Logistics Inc. to provide shippers with warehousing and fulfillment-center services that are needed to cope with explosive e-commerce growth. DHL’s e-commerce business in North America is increasing 25 percent this year.
The new gadgets are already showing lucrative returns, improving productivity by 25 percent and processing capacity by 30 percent, according to DHL.
“It’s unprecedented, like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Jim Gehr, president of retail for the North American business. “These are really needle-moving technologies.’
More is on the way, Surredin said. DHL, the world’s largest contract logistics company, plans to open a 24,000 square-foot innovation center near Chicago in September 2019 that’s dedicated to developing new tools to speed the flow of products.
DHL, which employs 35,000 people at its North America supply-chain unit, said the equipment won’t replace people, and will be a recruitment and retention tool by equipping and training workers in the most recent technology.