AUGMENTED REALITY: KNOWING HOW TO PICK THEM

In a pioneering pilot, DHL found that augmented reality software combined with wearable computers enabled ‘vision picking’ – hands free order picking, increasing productivity by 25 percent.

DHL tested the new technology in a warehouse in the Netherlands where, in cooperation with imaging and electronics company Ricoh and wearable computing solutions expert Ubimax, smart glasses and augmented reality were used to implement vision picking in warehousing operations. “We are always looking to further improve our processes with new technologies and we were happy to have DHL as our innovation partner for the pilot project,” says Pieter-Jelle van Dijk, Director Operations, Ricoh EMEA.

For three weeks, staff in the city of Bergen op Zoom were equipped with head mounted displays such as Google Glass and VuzixM100, which showed the respective task information during the picking process, including aisle, product location, and quantity. Overall, ten order pickers used the equipment and picked more than 20,000 items, fulfilling 9,000 orders much faster and error free. Staff welcomed the technology, and some comments included “You barely feel it once you are wearing it”; “Great to have hands free!” and “Much easier and faster to operate.”

Now DHL is looking forward to exploring the feasibility of augmented reality in, for example, transportation, last-mile delivery and value-added services. “Vision picking enables hands free order picking and greatly increases productivity,” says Jan-Willem De Jong, Business Unit Director Technology, DHL Supply Chain, Benelux. “However, this is just the first step in our innovation journey as we believe augmented reality will become relevant for even more supply chain areas.” The success of the pilot chimes with a report issued by DHL’s Trend Research team last June called Augmented Reality in Logistics, which describes best practices and promising use cases.

TOTAL VISIBILITY: NEXT-GENERATION ORDER TRACKING

New technology and systems integration has taken the hassle out of real-time order tracking and engineer deployment. DHL’s Sameday Visibility Tracker system now serves the U.K., France, Germany and Sweden, helping more than 500 couriers track approximately 40,000 orders to date.

The system uses an integrated routing engine combined with real-time traffic information to provide accurate delivery deadlines to give better service control and real-time point-of-delivery information. The control tower screens provide visibility on all orders, live status updates including the couriers’ position on the road for the customer’s call center, and the exact same information is available for the engineers using the application on their mobile devices. Geo-fenced zones will alert the engineer when the courier is on site, signature is done on the application and straight away an IOD is generated and visible for all parties involved. A Courier App linked to the control tower desktop provides real-time updates on position and reduces order queries to and from our customers call centers.

Meanwhile an Engineer App is linked to the Visibility Tracker, so the engineer is always up to date on shipment position, which significantly reduces the queries at our customers’ side between engineers and the customers’ call centers, as the engineer has the same information on his Engineer App and a realistic estimated time of arrival thanks to accurate traffic information allowing for better planning.

The system also facilitates predictable invoices, and speeds up the invoicing process by providing one source for reporting and billing. Users reported increased profitability in event management activities, better engineer planning and reduced manual calls to call centers.
 Open connectivity ensures the system can integrate into any other carrier’s transportation management system (TMS).

AUTOSTORE: RISE OF THE ROBOTS

DHL Supply Chain, in partnership with Swisslog, has established Asia’s first robotic warehousing system in Singapore for one of the world’s leading semiconductor companies. Called AutoStore, the system quadrupled storage capacity without expanding DHL’s 7,500 square meter footprint, while ramping up productivity. It’s ideal for places where higher throughput is needed but space is severely restricted.

The warehouse manages in-bound customer inventory from 20 different countries and distributes outbound to customers in 54 countries. There are two main elements in this state-of-the-art warehouse automation system. The first is a light and strong three-dimensional aluminum grid in which more than 63,000 bins are stacked. The second is a squad of 36 battery-operated robots travelling on tracks on the top of the grid to collect bins for humans to carry out picking or put-away at 10 work ‘ports’.

The grid itself increased storage capacity by a factor
of nearly four, from 6.5 million units to 2.5 billion units, while the robotic retrieval system increased throughput by 40 percent. The automated goods-to-person picking approach also reduces safety hazards. Integrated ERP and warehouse management systems allow the seamless flow of information between the customer and DHL, ensuring higher inventory integrity and drastically cutting the incidence of errors.

The robots are works of engineering art. Each has two sets of wheels that allow it to move in four directions to any point in the grid. Equipped with robotic arms, they lift the required bins from the grid and take them to picking ports, guided by a controls and location management system, with instructions transmitted via radio frequency. The robots recharge automatically.

Picking ports are installed at all sides of the grid. When a robot delivers a bin to a port, the port
exchanges this bin with the previously used one, which
is returned by the robot back to storage in the grid. Thus, new bins are delivered back-to-back, which results in fast processing. Perhaps the best thing about the system is that it was configured to fit DHL’s existing facility and was up and running in a matter of months, without disrupting legacy operations.

VIRTUALLY THERE: TELEPRESENCE SITE TOURS

If companies are not based close to a DHL Lighthouse Site – which offer best in class examples of DHL operational capability, innovation and industry leadership – there is another way to take a site tour. Virtual Site Tours (VST) use the latest telepresence technology, enabling customers to experience a Lighthouse Site simply by dialling in from one of DHL’s remote telepresence facilities based around the globe.

Once the locations are connected over telepresence the tour starts with a site presentation, followed by the warehouse tour; it closes with questions and answers.

The general tour flow follows a predefined approach but can also be customized according to customer interests. The VST solution was launched and piloted successfully in November 2014 in the multi-user technology site in Beringe, the Netherlands, and further sites will be rolled out this year to provide an even greater offering of interesting DSC sites.

Virtual Site Tours offer numerous benefits. By enabling customers to view operational capabilities remotely, the ‘virtual’ tour responds to their time restraints and minimizes travel and costs. Customer objectives and special interests such as particular products, solutions, and services are defined before the tour so that it can be tailored to their requirements.  — Rod Sweet; Tony Greenway

Published: April 2015

Photos / Infographic: DHL(3), krash20/Fotolia, Google, swisslog