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Supply Chain News: DHL Says it Conducted Successful Test of Collaborative Robot for Order Picking


Idea Is not a New One, but French Company's Effibots are a New Approach to Improving Picking Productivity and Ergonomics

June 13, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Just last week, SCDigest reported on Walmart demonstration of drones taking physical inventories in one of its distribution centers using imaging and video analytics technology. (See Walmart plans to Use Drones and Imaging to Take Physical Inventories in its DCs.)

Supply Chain Digest Says...

The key question of course is how much do the robots cost and what is the ROI – information that for now at least DHL is keeping close to the vest.

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Now news of what DHL is calling a successful pilot test of what it calls a “collaborative picking” robot at one of its European distribution centers, part of a broader vison for “collaborative automated order picking.”

The basic idea is this: rather than picking into a cart, which becomes progressively heavier as additional orders are selected and placed into it, what is really a form of automated guided vehicle (AGV) follows associates as they progress down DCs aisles, stopping and starting in tandem with the human based on some type of sensor technology. (See photo nearby).

Order pickers placed selected cartons into a storage bin on the AGV. When the bin is full, a push a bottom sends the robot on its way to a final order processing area. (See video below).

After one robot is released, another arrives automatically to assist the picker for subsequent picks.

The benefits include higher levels of worker productivity and an improved work environment for DCs associates.

In DHL's case, the robots were made by French company Effidence and are called EFFiBots. The machines sit on four heavy-duty all-terrain wheels, with its body is mainly an open wagon-like bay that holds upwards of 650 pounds.

The idea is not a new one. AGV companies such as Seegrid have been promoting the concept for a number of years, primarily for full case picking, though it doesn't seem to have taken much hold yet.

While the types of manual carts shown in the video are not generally used in the US, the benefit from a similar AGV approach is again more efficiency, so that a picker doesn't have to keep getting on and off of a powered pallet jack, with the similar idea that once the picks for a pallet are complete, the robot would drive itself over to the staging area.


At one point in the DHL video, a picker is followed by a whole train of such automated vehicles, without an explanation of what is going on. One possibility, it seems to us, is for pure discrete order picking, where after a pick is complete for a single order the robot takes the order to the packing area.

(Article Continues Below)



Carts for "eaches" picking are generally upright, with cubby holes for different orders. Such a collaborative robot that moved with pickers so they did not have to push/pull the cart would of course also have gains in terms of productivity and ergonomics.

Video of DHL Collaborative Picking Robots



DHL says that while the initial pilot was successful, the robots are still in test mode. The key question of course is how much do the robots cost and what is the ROI - information that for now at least DHL is keeping close to the vest.

What do you think of these collaborative robots for picking? Is there likely to be an ROI? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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