DHL Express, the world’s leading provider of international express shipping services, is implementing sortation robots to increase productivity and service quality at the company’s service centers. This is one of many digitalization investments that DHL is making as it implements productivity-enhancing technologies to handle increasing shipment volumes while maintaining the highest service standards for its customers.

For one of its first implementations, DHL Express partnered with Dorabot, an AI-powered robotic solution provider for logistics, express delivery, smart manufacturing, retailing and other industries. In June 2020, DHL deployed its first AI-powered robotics arm for sortation at one of its service centers based in Miami, FL., where courier pickup and delivery stops increased about 30% as the result of pandemic-related e-commerce growth. After the Dorabot was implemented as part of a pilot project, the Miami facility was able to sort 35% more packages per hour. Two robots are now deployed alongside each sorting belt, each capable of sorting over 1,000 small parcels per hour.

“By using robotics at our Miami facility to automate, and in some cases eliminate, time-consuming tasks, it frees up our operations staff for more value-adding tasks,” said Richard Saavedra, VP and General Manager at DHL Express (Southeast). “Overall, this robotic implementation has enhanced our ability to maintain a consistent shipment processing rate while managing volume surges. The application has demonstrated success and paves the way for additional implementations as a way forward in our current environment.”

The powerful AI enables the robotic arm to quickly sort packages into separate delivery bins that sit on racks surrounding the robot, each representing an individual courier route. For this deployment, the DHL team utilized a unique, custom-made design for the robot. The Dorabot hand is shaped like the DHL bin, where it meets up at the end of a conveyor belt to receive each package. While traveling the conveyor belt, 3D and barcode cameras scan the package, informing the robot about the package’s location and which bin is the targeted destination. This process helps couriers focus on other activities that allow for greater efficiency, such as loading packages onto their vehicles for last-mile deliveries.

“The successful collaboration with DHL has again proved that AI and robotics are ‘must have’ technologies for the enhancement strategy of logistics companies,” said Spencer Deng, Dorabot CEO.

COVID-19 has also driven changes in the logistics industry, which includes the acceleration of innovation, automation and digitalization in the workplace. During the pandemic, robotics allowed for greater social distancing without affecting the service center’s productivity. From its Americas Innovation Center in Rosemont, Illinois, DHL exhibits the technologies and innovations in logistics that the company is already implementing across the region, and its team drives the development of future logistics and supply chain solutions while serving as a regional platform for collaborative innovation with customers.

“The DHL Americas Innovation Center is dedicated to bringing impactful solutions to our vast network of operations, enabling significant benefits and process optimization. Our robotics sort solution allows us to handle greater volumes while maintaining the high service levels our customers know and love, particularly during a time where peak volumes are constant and labor is in high demand,” said Ben Perlson, Innovation Manager at DHL. “The e-commerce explosion has made robotics and automation a more important tool than ever to support our customers’ business operations.”

Approximately 13,000 customers engage with the DHL Innovation Centers globally per annum, and robotics and automation consistently ranks as one of the most sought-after trends. This technology presents clear opportunities to bolster operations and unlock new efficiencies, in addition to improving the wellbeing and safety of warehouse employees.

Over the past year, DHL has announced other advances in robotic deployments: its DHL Supply Chain division announced an expanded partnership with Locus Robotics to implement 1,000 additional LocusBots to support 12 DHL sites in North America in 2020. These robots assist in piece-picking order fulfillment in warehouses, navigating autonomously to quickly locate and transport pick items to associates.