CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
Technology
December 19, 2018
Forward Thinking

DHL to invest $300 million in emerging technologies

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Supply chain arm will deploy piece-picking robots, AI, self-driving vehicles in 350 of its 430 North American sites.

DHL Supply Chain, the contract logistics arm of Deutsche Post DHL Group, will spend $300 million to deploy emerging technologies in 350 of its 430 facilities in North American facilities and transportation control towers in an effort to help its clients address e-commerce and omnichannel challenges, the company said Thursday.

The move would be an upgrade of DHL's current application of emerging technologies at approximately 85 of those facilities, the Westerville, Ohio-based unit said.

Technology platforms involved will include robotics, augmented reality, robotics process automation, the internet of things (IoT), and DHL's proprietary end-to-end visibility solution, MySupplyChain, the firm said. "While many technologies are already in active deployment, collaborative piece-picking robots, artificial intelligence applications, and self-driving vehicles stand to have the most promise today," DHL Supply Chain North America CEO Scott Sureddin said in a release.

DHL declined to name the specific vendors who will supply those platforms, saying only that they "will vary by customer needs, based on the outcomes of research and pilot programs completed by DHL's internal innovation teams and collaboration with dozens of external innovators."

However, the company has previously disclosed pilot projects with the fulfillment automation providers Locus Robotics and Rethink Robotics. Rethink has since closed down, but the company's offices were purchased this month by former rival Universal Robots.

DHL said it is making the investment in an effort to help its customers minimize complexity, remove capacity constraints, and maximize service to their customers, all while minimizing infrastructure costs and maximizing service levels, the company said.Previous pilots have produced productivity gains upwards of 25 percent and throughput capacity gains of 30 percent, the firm said.

The company will spread its large investment across a variety of emerging technology providers in order to meet the various needs of its range of clients, Fred Takavitz, Senior vice president for retail, DHL Supply Chain North America, said in an interview. "We want to help our customers meet their profit goals," Takavitz said. "But those needs are going to be different for customers whether they are in the retail, consumer packaged goods (CPG), life sciences, or automotive sectors. It also depends where a company is on its e-commerce journey."

While the company has conducted a number of small pilot programs of emerging technologies in recent months, it is now ramping up its investment in the space because logistics tech vendors have recently moved past the experimental stage and moved into full commercial production of relevent platforms, Carl Behn, vice president for information technology (IT), DHL Supply Chain Americas, said in an interview. "The maturation of emerging technlogy providers and the products they are bringing to the table are at a whole other level of reliability that simply wasn't there in previous years," Behn said.

Ben Ames is Editor at Large and a Senior Editor at Supply Chain Quarterly’s sister publication, DC Velocity.

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