Pang Mei Yee, Vice President, Head of Asia Pacific Innovation, Solution Delivery and Service Management, DHL
Studies say that one in three jobs may be performed by robots as early as 2027.While we may be far from the day that robots actually replace humans, it has captivated the imagination of businesses across all sectors.
Businesses call for robots to overcome labor shortages in aging economies and meet increased demand from booming e-commerce markets. Added to this is the continued demand for higher productivity and efficiency in performing tasks. The logistics sector is naturally looking to technology and related solutions to augment its workforce.
Many such solutions are being tested in our operations to help our operators work faster and better. For instance, augmented reality (AR) glasses in warehouses improve ‘picking’ efficiency. With picking instructions displayed clearly on their AR glasses, workers are better able to identify the right item to pick across near-identical products and shelves. In fact, pilot studies show improved picking efficiency upto 25 percent.
Recent developments in robotics can be transformational to workplace efficiency. Robots of yesterday focused on speed and needed to be caged for safety. The robots of today focus on flexibility and are safe to work alongside their human co-workers.
The robots of today focus on flexibility and are safe to work alongside their human co-workers
Collaborative robots, or co-bots, are designed to work and assist humans in daily operations. Co-bots such as a Sawyer, by Re-think Robotics, are safe, adaptable, and cost-efficient. Such co-bots are being deployed across a range of services such as picking and co-packing, to sorting and labeling. Teaching these co-bots new tasks simply requires moving its arms and “fingers” to show it what to pick and place where. More importantly, these robots can work safely around people, leaving workers to carry on with other more meaningful tasks. Early implementations in our warehouses across the globe show promising signs of productivity gains. At a price of USD 25,000 each, these co-bots have the potential to revolutionize production, particularly for smaller companies which account for 70 percent of global manufacturing.
Mobile robots can also assist the logistics workforce from warehouse operators to last-mile delivery. With payloads up to 300 kilos, these robots follow the operator as they walk, reducing the need to push heavy carts for long distances. Such robots can also autonomously move around the warehouse, eliminating the need for the worker to travel long distances. These use cases are already being tested in some of our operations. Someday, we hope to see autonomous delivery to homes as well.
These examples highlight how smart technologies like robots have the potential to become central for logistics operations. Designed to work with humans, these technologies can augment the workforce and improve productivity in operations. It can also enhance safety conditions for operations– e.g. robots can take on tasks that are more challenging for humans like working in extreme temperature or handling dangerous goods.
Just like how the internet and smart phone have become indispensable to our daily lives, smart technologies will find its way into our homes and workplace in the next decade. We already have smart vacuum cleaners roaming about our homes, working hard while we areaway. A smart workplace complete with robot concierge, cleaners, and other workers supporting the human workforce isn’t far away as well.