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Case Study •
DHL Supply Chain is deploying Stretch to automate trailer unloading and support warehouse associates.
Collin Jacobs, Engineer, DHL Supply Chain: In the last 8 to 10 years, the automation advancements in the warehouse industry have been tremendous. And we want to be on the forefront of that. So whenever there’s an opportunity for us to utilize that within our operations, we want to be able to be more efficient, be more cost conservative, and utilize that technology in order to make us the number one employer of choice.
Spenser Brouwer, Director of Field Application Engineering, Boston Dynamics: So the system is made to be deployed relatively quickly, low infrastructure. And so from the time Stretch arrives at your facility until the time you’re moving your first boxes is only a couple of days.
Collin Jacobs: Stretch takes pictures of the boxes inside the container. And the suction cups takes one box at a time and places it on the conveyor. It goes down the conveyor through our scan tunnels and into our system. Once we’re started, it pretty much does all the work on its own.
Spenser Brouwer: So Stretch has a pallet size footprint. That means anywhere in the warehouse, you can take a pallet, you can take Stretch. It can move in omni-direction, so it can move left, right, forward, back, go in circles. It has an arm that has a 6 and 1/2 foot extended reach for a 10 foot vertical reach. It can use that to reach all the different corners of the container.
Brian Judge, Senior Field Applications Engineer, Boston Dynamics: You know, it doesn’t have any pre train information. What it’s doing is detecting the boxes, modeling them, and the robot will actually go pick the box. The only amount of fixed infrastructure are these side panels here that collapse into the wall and allow operators and workers to unload dock doors that you may not be using Stretch in at the moment.
Collin Jacobs: Even when the box drops when it’s inside the container, it continues to take pictures of its current environment and make some adjustments and picks that box up and continues to move forward.
Renetha Powell, Associate, DHL Supply Chain: When box falls, it moves back, looks around, and then pick it up. I love it.
Spenser Brouwer: So like all products at Boston Dynamics, the robots are really easy to use. Use this a tablet here, so they would simply drive the robot into the container, load a couple of parameters about the opening of the container into the tablet.
Ryan Anderson, Operations Supervisor, DHL Supply Chain: Some of the stuff looks like PlayStation controllers, so they actually want to learn to use it. They picked it up very easy.
Renetha Powell: I love it. I think Stretch has improved my whole life. I really do.
Collin Jacobs: Stretch is also allowing us to reduce damages. There’s less falls, less drops, and it also allows us consistency. So whenever we have a large and we get a truck that comes in late, we know that because of Stretch, we have that consistent unload throughput rate and it allows us to get those units into our operation as quickly as possible.
Ryan Anderson: Throughput is one of the main things that we, you know, have a challenge with. I mean, holiday season, peak season, we’re always, you know, busy, busy, busy. And during those times of year it’s more boxes in so we can get more boxes out. You know, Stretch doesn’t get tired. Stretch doesn’t need breaks. So, you know, during our specific break times, you don’t have to stop. You can continue to do what you need to do. We can plan our day accordingly, so now we can deliver numbers to our customer better. And, you know, it’s always reliable, it’s always increasing our productivity, and therefore we’re meeting demands even more.
Collin Jacobs: DHL is interested in investing in robots and automation because of the accelerated digital program. We want to be the leading technology in the marketplace and with the labor force the way it has been in the past year due to the pandemic, we want to be proactive.
Ryan Anderson: The way the workforce is nowadays, you need more people and post-COVID, you’re not getting as many people as you would through the door so I love Stretch. Like I said, it, my guys, it takes some of the load off of my people. They’re able to perform more. It just helps us overall as a business, saves my people that are here work.
Renetha Powell: When it’s hot, it’s hot. So when the people get exhausted, they can turn to the robots to unload.
Collin Jacobs: This is a very labor intensive operation. There’s extreme temperatures as far as extreme heat, extreme cold. It also is a big safety factor because with those extreme temperatures and then unloading boxes from certain heights that could be very heavy, it actually prevents safety injuries as well. Overall, I think Stretch is being very positive in the organization.
Ryan Anderson: It’s almost like an extra man helping them out. We can do what we do, but now we got a little support.
Collin Jacobs: It actually brings an excitement to within the facility because people know that we’re willing to invest not only in the organization but our associates as well. That’s why working at DHL is, and will continue to be the employer of choice.
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