DHL Deploys First Autonomous Forklifts in North America

DHL auto forklift400x275

November 10, 2021

DHL Supply Chain, which offers contract logistics operations and is part of the Deutsche Post DHL Group, has announced the first U.S. deployment of autonomous forklifts in the warehouse. The implementation is the result of a strategic collaboration between DHL, Crown Equipment and JBT Corporation to integrate automation technology into a fast-paced third-party logistics (3PL) environment.

The installation of indoor robotic transport is part of DHL’s Accelerated Digitalization strategy, and focuses on using autonomous forklifts for the most difficult and high value use cases in a pallet warehouse environment. The company said the installation aims to increase warehouse efficiency, workplace safety, and employee satisfaction.

“DHL Supply Chain takes great pride in embracing a culture of continuous innovation,” said Brian Gaunt, senior director of accelerated digitalization at DHL Supply Chain North America. “Leveraging a proven process, we assess and integrate leading-edge technologies that further our digital supply chain transformation and bring value to our customers’ operations. Our manual forklifts travel an estimated 25 million miles per year in our facilities, which makes pallet movement an excellent candidate for automation. Indoor robotic transport can increase the efficiency, accuracy and safety of double-deep pallet putaway and retrieval tasks without requiring any significant changes in the infrastructure.”

The installation features Crown R 1000 Series DualMode reach trucks, fitted with JTB Automated Systems robotics technology. The company said that rather than inserting automation into an existing manual process, the first deployment involved designing a new process for how products flow in the warehouse, creating a manual-to-autonomous handoff zone between pallet storage and receiving and shipping. The solution also integrates with the warehouse management system (WMS) to ensure a consistent workflow. With the ability to operate 24×7, 365 days a year, the autonomous forklift range spans six levels (27 feet) high and two pallets deep for putaway and retrieval, with a high degree of speed and precision, especially at levels three and above, DHL said. With a 360-degree safety field light, the autonomous forklifts operate in a dedicated area of the warehouse where access is limited to properly trained associates.

“Given our strong relationship with DHL Supply Chain and its reputation as a leader in innovation, itw as a natural fit for us to work with the company on its first U.S. installation of our DualMode reach trucks,” said Jim Gaskell, director of global automation and emerging technologies at Crown Equipment. “It provides a great opportunity to show how the technology allows 3PLs to take a flexible, incremental approach to deploying an automation solution that provides consistent performance and reliability in these fast-paced environments.”

The installation went live in July 2021, and DHL said it was pleased with the results, which surpassed the initial productivity goal. Faster pick and putaway times from the autonomous forklifts are driving a 20% increase in efficiency, and the reach trucks deliver 98% or better reliability. DHL said it plans to deploy the technology at additional sites where applicable to its customers. The company plans to accelerate the deployment of indoor robotic transport to its more than 2,200 warehouses worldwide.

Additional details on the deployment are available here.

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