DHL supply chain deploys its first autonomous forklifts in North America
DHL Supply Chain, a leader in contract logistics in the Americas and part of Deutsche Post DHL Group, has deployed its first autonomous forklifts in the US warehouse. This installation of indoor robotic transport is part of the company’s Accelerated Digitalisation strategy and focuses on using autonomous forklifts for the most difficult and high value use cases in a pallet warehouse environment. The implementation is the result of a strategic collaboration between DHL Supply Chain, Crown Equipment and JBT Corporation to integrate automation technology into a fast-paced 3PL environment, which will increase warehouse efficiency, workplace safety and employee satisfaction.
“DHL Supply Chain takes great pride in embracing a culture of continuous innovation. Leveraging a proven process, we assess and integrate leading-edge technologies that further our digital supply chain transformation and bring value to our customers’ operations,” says Brian Gaunt, senior director, accelerated digitalisation, DHL Supply Chain North America. “Our manual forklifts travel an estimated 25 million miles per year in our facilities, which makes pallet movement an excellent candidate for automation. Indoor robotic transport can increase the efficiency, accuracy and safety of double-deep pallet putaway and retrieval tasks without requiring any significant changes in the infrastructure.”
The installation features Crown R 1000 Series DualMode reach trucks fitted with JBT Automated Systems robotics technology. Rather than inserting the automation into an existing manual process, the first deployment involved designing a new process for how products flow in the warehouse, creating a manual-to-autonomous handoff zone between pallet storage and receiving and shipping. This solution integrates with the warehouse management system to ensure a consistent workflow. Equipped with the ability to operate 24/7/365, the autonomous forklift range spans six levels (27ft) high and two pallets deep for putaway and retrieval, with a high degree of speed and precision especially at levels three and above. With a 360deg safety field light, the autonomous forklifts operate in a dedicated area of the warehouse where access is limited to properly trained associates.
“Given our strong relationship with DHL Supply Chain and its reputation as a leader in innovation, it was a natural fit for us to work with the company on its first US installation of our DualMode reach trucks. It provides a great opportunity to show how the technology allows 3PLs to take a flexible, incremental approach to deploying an automation solution that provides consistent performance and reliability in these fast-paced environments,” said Jim Gaskell, director of global automation and emerging technologies, Crown Equipment. “We share DHL Supply Chain’s vision of automated technology as a way to help support employee productivity and satisfaction, enabling warehouse associates to focus on more strategic and value-adding tasks that enhance operational excellence.”
The installation went live in July 2021 and DHL Supply Chain has been pleased with the results, which surpassed the initial productivity goal. Faster pick and putaway times from the autonomous forklifts are driving a 20% increase in efficiency, and these reach trucks deliver 98% or better reliability. The company plans to deploy this flexible, scalable technology at additional sites, as applicable to its customers. DHL Supply Chain credits the success of the autonomous forklift deployment to its proven process for integrating new technology, as well as the innovative spirit and commitment level of its partners.
“We are pleased that DHL Supply Chain continues to be an industry leader, using JBT automation technology to boost throughput, cut costs and deliver more value to their customers,” said Barry Douglas, president of JBT Automated Systems.
This first North America installation of autonomous forklifts represents a significant step in DHL Supply Chain’s efforts to accelerate the deployment of indoor robotic transport in its more than 2,200 warehouses worldwide. DHL Supply Chain’s commitment to continuous innovation and digital transformation represents the next frontier in end-to-end supply chain optimisation, from the warehouse to packaging and transportation.