DHL expands robotic footprint with 1000 autonomous robots

Autonomous mobile robots are fast becoming the lynchpin of global commerce.

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Contract logistics company DHL Supply Chain is expanding deployments of autonomous mobile robots from a company called Locus Robotics. The expanded partnership will include 10 new, nationwide deployments in 2020 and an expanded multi-site service agreement.

It's an example of the growing importance of autonomous mobile robots, which can navigate semi-structured warehouse spaces, in the global logistics, fulfillment, and supply chain sectors. Locus is one of a growing number of warehouse robotics providers helping retailers and third-party logistics operators automate existing operations without major retrofits. The task-agnostic robots are driving unprecedented speed and efficiencies across a $4 trillion global ecommerce market.

"The agreement with Locus Robotics further enables us to bring productivity-enhancing technology to our customers quickly, so they are well-positioned to capitalize on new and emerging opportunities," said Jim Gehr, President, Retail at DHL Supply Chain North America. "DHL Supply Chain's initial implementation of the Locus solution within the life sciences and retail sectors was a tremendous success; we saw increases in fulfillment productivity of up to 80% in selected customer operations."

Much of that success found its roots in Amazon, which has largely reshaped fulfillment and logistics in a very short time. In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva, which makes automation solutions for the logistics industry. The $775 million acquisition, Amazon's second-biggest at the time, gave the company a massive competitive advantage over rivals like Wal-Mart and put it years ahead of smaller retailers.

Now, a new generation of companies like Fetch RoboticsOTTO Motors, and Locus are bridging the gap with autonomous carts and pickers that can navigate semi-structured environments like warehouses.

"We now see an opportunity to extend the benefits of utilizing their highly flexible AMR solution at scale for customers across multiple sectors," said Gehr. "We look forward to continuing to work with Locus to drive productivity, support capacity growth and deliver continuous improvement within our customers' supply chains nationwide."

DHL Supply Chain North America and Locus Robotics first partnered in 2017 to pilot a collaborative, autonomous robotics solution – LocusBots – to support associates in piece picking order fulfillment in warehouses. The LocusBots navigate autonomously within warehouses to quickly locate and transport pick items to associates. They can be flexibly deployed to support a diverse range of picking strategies, significantly reducing time spent on routine or physically demanding tasks, reducing manual errors and increasing productivity.