Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

DHL tests robots for warehouse management

Steve Rogerson
July 18, 2017

Technology group Wärtsilä and DHL have completed a pilot using robotics to help manage a warehouse. The pilot was carried out in Wärtsilä's central distribution centre in Kampen, Netherlands, where the entire logistics chain of spare parts, from order intake to customer delivery, is managed.
The mobile robots were made by California-based Fetch Robotics. DHL runs the warehouse operations.
The aim of the project was to investigate possibilities to use the latest technology innovations in the daily operations of the warehouse. Wärtsilä and DHL also wanted to gain more understanding of the added value of robotics in a warehouse environment and to learn about the human-technology interface between robots and employees.
The mobile robot system simplifies point-to-point material handling. Workflows at the warehouse can be set up and modified quickly to accommodate today's dynamic environments, without the need for complex programming. Workers can interact with the robots via touchscreen and send them on their journeys with a push of a button.
"Our colleagues took centre stage during the trial," said Denis Niezgoda, robotics accelerator lead at DHL. “The robots are designed to work alongside employees and to relieve them from physically strenuous tasks. The robots alone took over a walking distance of more than 30km per day, thereby increasing productivity and safety within the warehouse working environment.”
The autonomous mobile robots have a loading capacity of 78kg and can cover a distance of two metres per second. When the battery life of maximum nine hours comes to an end, the freight robot independently makes its way to the charging unit. The intelligent robots recognise their location and surroundings, and can differentiate between dynamic and static obstacles, thus enabling evasive action to work safely with and around people.
"Our relationship with DHL is a great accomplishment," said Melonee Wise, CEO at Fetch Robotics. “We were able to deploy our robots in the facility in a matter of days, rapidly improve on-site productivity, while increasing the safety of the warehouse employees.”
This new generation of smart mobile robots can impact the logistics industry through enhancing people's capabilities. They enable people to perform tasks faster and save energy, thus improving efficiency.
"The pilot was a success and, as a result, we have decided to continue exploring and developing new applications of smart mobile robot technology," said Anne Träskbäck, general manager at Wärtsilä Services. “Over the coming months, we will continue to trial different robot types and technologies together with our partners to further improve productivity, quality and safety in our operations. We have exciting times ahead. Working with robots means embracing a new change, and co-operating in new, productive ways in the future."