DHL Supply Chain prepping life-science network for robotics

Your next pharmaceutical order may be sent to you without ever being touched by human hands – provided it comes from a warehouse taking part in a new DHL Supply Chain robotics pilot project in the United States.

DHL said it will start testing “collaborative, autonomous robotics” within its life-sciences sector at a facility in Tennessee in the next two months. The robots – called LocusBots, made by Locus Robotics – will be evaluated based on their ability to increase productivity by collaboratively assisting workers fulfilling orders in the warehouse.

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However, LocusBots, DHL Supply Chain insisted, are not intended to replace human warehouse workers but to work alongside them, helping to locate and transport pick items. This, the integrator said, will free warehouse staff of physical tasks such as pushing carts, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks. Robotics are also regarded as a way to shield warehouse staff from more dangerous tasks, DHL said.

The program will assess the robots’ ability to communicate with pickers and the warehouse management system (WMS), how it navigates the warehouse and its overall versatility. DHL said it hopes that the robots will connect “seamlessly” with existing warehouse infrastructure.

Adrian Kumar, vice president of solutions design at DHL Supply Chain North America, said that, “the initial implementation of this pilot program within the life-sciences sector will inform the potential for broader deployment across different parts of our business,” suggesting that automation could quickly spread across DHL’s network.

Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics, explained that the company had designed an “easy-to-deploy, highly scalable” robotics system that can improve the operating metrics for companies ranging from mid-size to “global powerhouses.”

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