The future of logistics warehouses
Warehousing and logisti...
Supply Chain Digital takes a closer look at three leading logistics companies and how they are digitalising their warehouses.
Warehousing and logistics, an industry with complex operations in need of flexible and innovative solutions. Currently within the world of warehousing and logistics, companies are lining up to jump on the digital transformation bandwagon. Taking a look at some of the major companies in warehousing and logistics, we examine Amazon, XPO Logistics and DB Schenker’s successful deployments of innovative technology on their journey to becoming more digital.
Amazon, a multinational company that has many strings to its bow. Founded in 1994, the company has flourished into one of the biggest players within technology, web services, logistics and warehousing. Furthering its development, Amazon has been innovating its use of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) within its logistics and warehousing operations.
When it comes to robotics, Amazon envisions a future where “humans and robots work harmoniously to get packages to customers on time.” The company started using robotics in 2012, and currently has 26 of its fulfillment centres worldwide using robotics and people together. Ultimately, Amazon strives to harness robotic automation to make the lives of its associates easier by removing tedious, and strenuous tasks such as carrying pods of inventory and transporting pallets, from their duties.
“Amazon fulfillment centres are busy places, with packages and people moving around constantly. In centres equipped with robotics, employees now lift and walk less. Robots pick up heavy items to prep them for shipping or for stowage. Employees who help pick customer orders are able to easily identify items, rather than looking for them on shelves.
Products now come directly to employees,” says Amazon.
Amazon has several types of robots currently operational within its warehouses including:
Palletisers - robotic arms with grippers. These robots identify and grab totes, to stack them for shipping and stowing. Currently, Amazon has 30 globally.
Robo-stow - a robotic arm which lifts pallets to different levels within a fulfillment centre or places them on drive units to be carried to their destination. Currently, Amazon has six around the world.
Drive unit - a robot unit that can transport packages around the fulfilment centres. Currently, Amazon has 100,000 worldwide.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
The software behind the machines. Within an Amazon fulfilment centre there can be between 1-4mn bins, with 10mn items, Russelll Allgor, Chief Scientist at Amazon Worldwide explains the company’s adoption of AI and machine learning (ML), in order to efficiently optimise its robotics in real time. By harnessing AI and ML in the form of decision engines, decision logic, computer vision systems and a transportation execution system, Amazon can build warehouse predictions based on: the likelihood of needing access to pallets again; travel time; what needs to be picked at the same time; and minimised travel distance.
When it comes to technological innovation, XPO Logistics - a leading American logistics services provider - invests US$550mn a year to deploy industry leading innovations across its operations in North America and Europe.
Currently, XPO Logistics is harnessing robotics technology within its warehouses to improve security and work productivity.
C3-XPO - an autonomous security robot that monitors the car parks and exterior of XPO Logistics' sites, 24 hours a day. The robot was a joint venture between XPO Logistics and Knightscope to develop a physical presence that can interpret data in real-time. Within the first six months of operations C3-XPO reduced incidents at its Atlanta facility to zero.
“We’re taking the lead in integrating emerging technology throughout our business, including lesser-known areas such as security. By working with Knightscope to deploy C3-XPO, we’ve been able to achieve 100% external security at our Atlanta site, while delivering significant savings for our customer,” commented Troy Cooper, Chief Operating Officer of XPO Logistics.
The security robot was designed to be weatherproof, with a 360-degree HD, low light camera, that can use visual and audible alarms to deter potential threats, detect loitering cars and exterior fires. In addition, the robot has two-way communication allowing operators to communicate with potential threats without placing a life at risk.
Collaborative robots - partnering with GreyOrange Pte. Ltd., XPO Logistics has deployed thousands of intelligent robotics throughout its operations in North America and Europe. Designed to collaborate with its existing human workforce, the collaborative robots can move a rack weighing roughly 1,000 - 3,500 lbs, to a workers station to reduce walk-time and manual errors.
Alongside these robots, XPO Logistics has developed a cloud-based, mobile software platform for rapid deployment and integration of automation and robotics. The software known as WMx is a single solution for warehouse integration, combining key supply chain elements into one application.
"Our WMx platform is the future of warehouse management. It turbocharges our operations through greater connectivity, brings innovations on line more rapidly than ever before, and supports distributed order management for greater efficiency in multi-site and multi-channel environments,” commented Cooper.
With over 140 years of experience, DB Schenker is committed to “providing innovative supply chain solutions to challenge the status quo.” DB Schenker has experience in supporting the global exchange of goods via land transport, air freight, ocean freight, contract logistics and supply chain management.
DB Schenker is utilising the flexible solution of Gideon Brothers - a global manufacturer of autonomous robots - for logistics processes in its warehouses to drive productivity.
“In our drive to offer strategic advantages for our clients in the increasingly complex digital environment, DB Schenker continuously explores opportunities to integrate innovations from visionary start-up companies,” commented Xavier Garijo, Member of the Board for Contract Logistics at Schenker AG.
The robots provide next generation robotic vision with its visual perception based robotic autonomy system that combines deep learning and stereoscopic cameras. In addition, the robots can move 800kg, with a hot-swappable battery system to minimise downtime.
“This is a technological leap. Self-driving machines, powered by vision and AI, will succeed where earlier technology failed – it will become ubiquitous in industrial environments,” commented Matija Kopić, CEO and Co-Founder of Gideon Brothers.
For more information on all topics for Procurement, Supply Chain & Logistics - please take a look at the latest edition of Supply Chain Digital magazine.
DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID
Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.
This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go.
With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”.
Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats.
In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.
“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”.
How Do We Sustain Immunisation?
By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”.
Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared.
Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.