Global CIO and COO, DHL Supply Chain
Tech Optimization and Modernization
DHL Supply Chain provides value-added logistics, storage, transportation, and distribution services in more than 50 countries around the world. It’s constantly on the lookout for new ways to innovate and optimize performance for its global customers. Rather than relying on purely manual processes for picking, packing, inventory management, and other tasks, the company employs state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics technologies. These tools help DHL Supply Chain ease the burdens of its shop-floor workers and support customers by streamlining supply chain and warehouse operations worldwide.
DHL’s Accelerated Digitalization Initiative is aimed at rapidly establishing its technology leadership with a key goal to incorporate automation and robotics at more than 2,000 sites, orchestrating this implementation from a global perspective. While robots help with e-commerce proliferation, a shrinking labor market, and larger orders needing different fulfillment requirements, robots also bring elements of complexity that include:
- on-boarding robots requires highly complex, customized integrations,
- vendor lock-in provides little flexibility to switch,
- expensive maintenance and upgrades, and
- WMS diversity in terms of different versions and solutions.
Further, DHL’s customers are challenged as different robot vendors manage their own robots causing disparate views for operations managers to handle leading to islands of automation within the same warehouse or distribution center (DC).
To address the integration related challenges and ease out onboarding of automation, DHL Supply Chain collaborated with its long-time supply chain solutions provider Blue Yonder to develop and introduce the Robotics Hub solution. Robotics Hub is a SaaS-native application that enables accelerated onboarding of multiple robotics vendors in a warehouse, and enhances operational flexibility by removing vendor lock-in. For warehouse managers and supervisors, this solution helps improve visibility across different automation solutions through a single operations dashboard. For DHL, the robots ensure a higher quality assurance as they stop at the right location each time, helping drive and increase the quality of the pick.
Built on Blue Yonder’s Luminate Platform, powered by Microsoft Azure, Robotics Hub implements standards workflows and application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be re-used across different automation solutions. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. Robotics Hub on one side connects with WMS and on the other side connects with different robotics and automation vendors through a standard set of “RESTful APIs”, which is the same technology Amazon, Google, LinkedIn und Twitter use for their websites.
When used with a warehouse tasking solution, it greatly benefits warehouse operations. Blue Yonder’s warehouse tasking solution utilizes ML-driven task management and resource determination capabilities to determine the tasks that need to be handled through automation versus manually.
The project had three goals, all accomplished:
1. Delivered a compatible solution with DHL’s existing WMS that allows multiple robotics vendor to integrate easily.
2. Achieved improved customer operations by giving them greater flexibility in selecting and integrating different robotics vendors in one system.
3. Better support for DHL’s employees by assigning tedious, repetitive and particularly strenuous activities to the robots, making the operational processes more flexible, ergonomic and attractive to the human workforce.
A first implementation at a DHL warehouse in Madrid, Spain, led to in first six months:
- 60% reduction in implementation time for robotics, thereby faster delivery of ROI.
- With subsequent deployments, foresee up to 90% reduction in implementation time. For this one, the implementation time went from 8-9 months to 6-8 weeks.
- 80% savings in training time for employees on the deployed technology
In addition, the first implementation achieved:
- Improved picking productivity, achieving 25% higher pickper-hour rate over target goal
- Greater visibility, for improved speed and responsiveness
As a result, DHL can deliver greater logistics speed, responsiveness and resilience, all of which are essential in today’s volatile environment. Moreover, in 2021, the solution is being rolled out with an aggressive timeline in all DHL regions.
Used with warehouse tasking, Robotics Hub greatly benefits warehouse operations. Blue Yonder’s warehouse tasking solution utilizes ML-driven task management and resource determination capabilities to assign automated versus manual tasks. Robotics Hub implements standards workflows and APIs that can be re-used across different automation solutions. On one side it connects with WMS and on the other with different robotics and automation vendors through a standard set of RESTful APIs.
The Robotics Hub solution creates a triple win situation for all stakeholders involved: DHL employees, operations and customers. First, it allows for the integration of different warehouse robot vendors, which usually must be done on a point-to-point basis, is expensive and time consuming, and often turns into a complex, costly integration. The Robotics Hub also significantly reduces integration time and programming efforts to on-board new automation devices into warehouse facilities, while giving customers more flexibility in selecting suitable robotics systems according to their individual business needs. Robotics Hub enables accelerated onboarding of robotics and automation systems, which improve the warehouse operational efficiency. The aim is not to replace employees over time, but to assign the more attractive and interesting tasks to the human workforce of DHL. By leveraging a single, shared dashboard for robotics, DHL employees can immediately view warehouse progress, check the status of key tasks and feed real-time task status updates back into their WMS. Building a resilient and flexible supply chain is essential to respond to constantly changing customer needs. By digitizing their warehouse solutions, DHL is dramatically simplifying the integration of complex IoT systems and unlocking new business opportunities for the logistics industry. The result: greater advancements in speed, global scale, cost reduction, and security.
DHL Supply Chain, Blue Yonder and Microsoft combined their strengths in customer-centric contract logistics, secure cloud computing at global scale, and seamless end-to-end supply chain integration to improve warehouse management and operational excellence for a wide range of industry customers.
Blue Yonder is now offering this solution to other customers to help solve robotics integration issues in warehouses, after successfully accomplishing this hardness test.
About DHL Supply Chain
Deutsche Post DHL Group is the world’s leading logistics company. The Group connects people and markets and is an enabler of global trade. It aspires to be the first choice for customers, employees and investors worldwide. The Group contributes to the world through responsible business practice, corporate citizenship and environmental activities.