Watch: New robots could work in DHL warehouses in SA in the future

Update: DHL South Africa has clarified that the pilot took place in the Netherlands, and a local pilot would need to be established for viability in South Africa.

Technology group Wärtsilä and shipping and courier delivery service, DHL have partnered to deploy mobile robots from Fetch Robotics to streamline warehouse operations in South Africa.

The partnership is aimed at investigating implementing the latest technologies in the daily operations of the warehouse, and follows a successful pilot where the companies tested mobile robots of Fetch Robotics, DHL said in a statement.

DHL also indicated that it wants to gain greater understanding of the added value of robotics in a warehouse environment and to learn about the human-technology interface between robots and employees.

“There are exciting times ahead as we gear up to work side-by-side with robots in our operations. This technology allows us to seamlessly improve our customers’ supply chains, while relieving our employees from much of the physical effort and keeping them safer,” said Paul Stone, CEO: Africa and MD: South Africa at DHL Supply Chain.

“We have had a successful pilot in the Netherlands and the benefits realised is highly rewarding. We would need to pilot the solution in the South African market to see if similar benefits can be realised before we can firm up deployment plans.”

How they work

DHL said that the primary aim of the initiative is to simplify point-to-point material handling without any complex programming.

Workers can interact with the robots via touchscreen, and send them on their journeys with a push of a button.

The autonomous mobile robots have a loading capacity of 78 kilograms, and can cover a distance of two metres per second. When the nine-hour battery life comes to an end, the freight robot independently makes its way to the charging unit.

The robots recognise their location and surroundings, and can differentiate between dynamic and static obstacles, thus enabling them to take evasive action to work safely with and around people, DHL said.

“The pilot was a success and, as a result, we have decided to continue exploring and developing new applications of smart mobile robot technology. 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,” said Anne Träskbäck, GM of parts delivery at Wärtsilä.

“We have exciting times ahead. Working with robots means embracing change, and co-operating in new and productive ways in the future.”

Read: Sweden rolls out robots for banking clients

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Watch: New robots could work in DHL warehouses in SA in the future