“If you don’t understand the warehouse flow and are always trying to crowbar the technology in, it’s never going to work.”
Ben Perlson, Robotics and Automation lead for DHL’s Innovation Center in Illinois discusses sustainability, robots named Ralph, and turning off the warehouse lights with Plus One Robotics.
Chicago, Cologne, Singapore, and Dubai. Those are the four cities where logistics and warehouse professionals can see the latest developments in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and other technologies that will not only make their lives safer and more efficient but a bit more enjoyable as well.
That’s because each of these locations is home to a DHL Innovation Center, places that the well-known logistics company suggests “spearhead the future of logistics and drive customer-centric innovation across the world.”
In a recent edition of Plus One Robotics’ In The Loop podcast, Ben Perlson, the robotics and automation lead for DHL’s Chicago Innovation Center, explains why the company makes its bold claim, and offers a peek into the advanced technology that visitors will see there. So, put on your walking shoes, silence your cellphone; we’re chatting with Perlson about how DHL is “delivering the future today.”
[1:07] Tell us a little bit about yourself, the Innovation Center, and what you’re doing at DHL.
[2:48] We want to show these technologies to people who come through the facility so they understand it’s not just a YouTube video or TikTok that took off and went viral. These are systems that can make a meaningful change amidst one of the most uncertain and challenging times in the history of supply chains.
[5:05] Like our customers, we take a crawl, walk, run approach. All of our operations here are live, so we can't afford to bring any downtime or take a system offline to implement a new solution at our Innovation Center. That said, we’re seeing many game-changing technologies.
[6:56] A big part of our job at the Innovation Center is to educate people and promote the use of these technologies. With that, they get to see firsthand how robotics and automation are critical to supply chain and warehouse operations.
[9:37] We deployed a pretty sizable fleet of autonomous mobile robots at one of our larger warehouses, and the efficiency there has increased tremendously. But we also saw other, more subtle improvements. For example, our retention has gone way up because people enjoy working with automation. It’s a very cool technology to be around.
[12:26] We're trying hard to promote and showcase the latest and greatest technologies, which is why I was very excited to hear that we're getting a Plus One system at our Innovation Center in Chicago.
[14:57] DHL has facilities all over the world, and quite frankly, we're bursting at the seams in terms of growth and capacity at many of them. We don't have the luxury of designing new solutions from the ground up.
[15:31] We're looking for partners that can help us create solutions suitable for deployment in a brownfield implementation where we already have existing infrastructure. This is key to supporting our incredible growth rates without disrupting operations.
[17:21] It’s impressive how our operations groups can pivot at a moment's notice. They’re dealing with all different kinds of challenges, from capacity shortages to the labor disruptions that started with COVID. It's impacted the world in ways we hadn't predicted or could even imagine. All of this is driving us to be creative and innovative with how we approach our work.
[20:18] There's currently no such thing as a lights-out warehouse, but we’re getting closer every day. Ultimately, that’s the goal.
[23:25] At the end of the day, end users want a solution that's going to be the most cost-effective, efficient, and reliable, not one that will burn out or become obsolete in a year or two. Sustainability is one of the big pillars of DHL, which is why everything we do is forward-thinking and focused on the future.
About the Contributors
Ben Perlson is a Senior Innovation Manager and Robotics and Automation Lead for the DHL Innovation Center in Chicago, Illinois. He’s been with the company since 2016, when he served as a Solutions Design Intern while attending the University of Iowa.
Brent Barcey Brent Barcey is Vice President of Business Development at Plus One Robotics. Previously, as executive director of global sales, he led the Fulfillment and System Solutions Advisor Group for FANUC America. Brent is a thought leader in the robotics industry and regular speaker at industry conferences. He graduated from the University of Michigan.