Contract logistics firm DHL Supply Chain, part of Deutsche Post DHL Group, is to deploy emerging technologies – including collaborative piece-picking robots and self-driving vehicles – in 350 of its 430 North American facilities as part of a US$300m investment.

The rollout is expected to help the firm’s diverse customer base, including those addressing e-commerce and omnichannel challenges to minimise complexity, remove capacity constraints, and maximise service.

Selected technologies will vary by customer needs, based on the outcomes of research and pilot programmes completed by DHL’s internal innovation teams and collaboration with dozens of external innovators.

Accelerating the implementation of selected technologies such as robotics, augmented reality, robotics process automation, IoT and DHL’s proprietary end-to-end visibility solution – MySupplyChain – is the aim of DHL Supply Chain‘s global digitalisation strategy.

“This investment is about a holistic view of emerging technologies that enables our customers to achieve their growth and profitability goals,” explains DHL Supply Chain North America CEO Scott Sureddin. “Our customers’ needs are not homogenous as each business and segment has unique challenges and levels of maturity. Therefore, it is important that our customers can benefit from our experiences and expertise with a variety of emerging technologies.”

According to a recent DHL report, the exponential growth of e-commerce and its implications on service was identified by 65% of responding companies as having a significant impact on their supply chain. In alignment with this trend, DHL is already leveraging emerging technologies at about 85 of its 430 North American facilities. 

“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,” adds Sureddin.

The potential impact on customers’ businesses, which in some deployments have produced productivity gains upwards of 25% and throughput capacity gains of 30%, are two of the main drivers for accelerated investment in the coming years, the firm says. Its experience with these technologies stands to minimise infrastructure costs and maximise service levels, while another motivation is based on the workforce itself, which is widely regarded as one of the most significant challenges facing the logistics industry.

“These technologies enhance the value of our people; they don’t replace them,” Tim Sprosty, senior vice president of human resources at DHL Supply Chain, says. “Our team will be equipped with the most advanced technologies, trained on emerging ones and retained through a culture of innovation, collaboration and recognition. We believe this approach is a winning strategy not just for our business but for our customers’ businesses as well.”