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DHL, Hai Robotics Advance Autonomous Warehouse Tech

The labor shortages in key industrial countries and the need for greater efficiency in warehouse management are leading to the expansion of robotics technology and deployment.

DHL Supply Chain, the contract logistics arm of DHL Group, is accelerating the commercial deployment of autonomous forklifts and pallet movers in its more than 1,500 warehouses worldwide, focusing on sites in labor-tight markets across Europe, the U.K., Ireland and North America.

Autonomous pallet movers can handle horizontal and vertical movements of palletized goods, making them especially useful in sectors such as consumer, retail or automotive that are characterized by full-pallet handling. The deployment is part of DHL Supply Chain’s “Accelerated Digitalization” agenda, a strategy for commercializing and scaling innovative solutions and new technologies.

“Effective robotic support of our warehouse employees is not limited to the piece-picking processes at our booming e-commerce and fulfillment sites,” Markus Voss, global chief information and operating officer at DHL Supply Chain, said. “Autonomous pallet movers can support service quality and operational excellence in many ways. One of the main advantages of these indoor robotic transport devices is that they add immediate benefits to our operations and can theoretically be deployed in all of our pallet-handling operations…Not only do these processes require technical assets–forklifts or pallet movers, they also tie up substantial workforce capacity that we could deploy more effectively elsewhere, especially in labor-tight markets.”

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Voss said DHL estimates that up to 30 percent of its global material-handling equipment fleet will use some form of robotic automation by 2030.

Autonomous forklifts take over the picking, put-away and replenishment of full pallets in warehouses, reducing the number of manual pallet transfers without requiring significant changes in warehouse infrastructure. These forklifts can easily reach DHL’s highest warehousing racks at heights of more than 10 meters and can handle all kinds of pallets, stillages and other unit load storage equipment.

In their currently deployed configurations, the robotic units achieve 65 percent of human productivity and move 10 to 15 pallets per hour while safely maneuvering alongside warehouse employees and traditional material-handling equipment, according to DHL. Such forms of hybrid work involving the collaboration of humans and robots can be especially helpful in markets seeing booming or highly volatile logistics activities, as well as in regions that are temporarily suffering shortages of qualified workers.

With 24/7 operation, DHL calculates that a fleet of just a dozen of these autonomous forklifts can handle more than 1 million pallets per year in one facility. The company said automated indoor robotic transport increases efficiency and improves workplace safety by taking over the repetitive task of driving pallets around.

The labor shortages in industrial countries and the need for greater efficiency in warehouse management is leading to robotics expansion.

Meanwhile, Hai Robotics, which provides autonomous case-handling robotics (ACR) system for warehouse fulfillment, announced a partnership with the U.K.-based global logistics solutions engineering company Invar System to expand its global presence by delivering competitive service to the supply chain where Invar is more established in the marketplace.

The strategic ties with Invar is Hai Robotics’ second in Europe following its alliance with France-based Savoye. Hai Robotics and Invar will work together to ensure Hai’s robots will be seamlessly connected with Invar’s in-house developed warehouse management system.

The joint solutions will be expected to address the dramatically growing demand for order fulfillment in the area where warehouses are facing mounting pressure to upgrade their storage and fulfillment capacity with the online shopping boom.

Hai Robotics launched the first ACR system Haipick in 2015 and since then has made considerable commercial success with more than 300 projects operating globally due to its high level of flexibility. Haipick ACR robots can pick and place totes or cartons on storage shelves up to 10 meters high and carry up to eight loads to continuously feed goods-to-person picking stations.

“The partnership will be able to offer warehouse operators a unique and innovative solution that delivers higher fulfillment volumes, at lower operation costs and with better distribution efficiency,” Kane Luo, vice president of sales for Hai Robotics, said.

Invar has an extensive network of global customers and has been recognized for its WMS and automation integration capabilities.

“Robotics has transformed automation in the warehouse,” Craig Whitehouse, managing director of Invar Integration, said. “Their flexibility, scalability and low-Capex appeal offers huge advantages over fixed solutions. Hai Robotics has a fantastic range of intelligent ACRs, well suited to the varied demands of fulfillment applications, and so we are delighted to include Hai Robotics’ advanced ACRs in our fast-expanding solutions suit.”

The Haipick system is seeing a fast-expanding global presence in the warehousing logistics sector and has been implemented in e-commerce, 3PL, apparel, electronics, energy, manufacturing and medicine industries, with over 300 projects alive worldwide. Some notable overseas customers include DHL Supply Chain, Phillips, Booktopia, GE and HP.

With headquarters in Shenzhen, China, Hai Robotics has set up five subsidiaries in Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Singapore, the U.S. and the Netherlands, serving customers from over 30 countries and regions. The company has acquired more than 600 global patents for core intellectual properties involving positioning, robot control and warehouse management.

Invar Group, based in Cranfield U.K., is focused on delivering complete turnkey warehouse automation solutions using advanced technologies such as industrial robotics, AMR goods-to-person solutions, pick-to-light technology, sortation systems, as well as conventional warehouse automation.