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DHL Supply Chain to invest $15 million to further automate warehousing in North America via Boston Dynamics Collaboration

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DHL Supply Chain, the global and North American contract logistics leader within Deutsche Post DHL Group, today announced a $15 million investment in robotics solutions from Boston Dynamics, the global leader in mobile robotics, to further automate warehousing in North America. The companies have signed a multi-year agreement that begins with equipping DHL facilities with Stretch, Boston Dynamics’ newest robot specifically designed to automate the unloading process in distribution centers.

This agreement is the culmination of strategic collaboration between the two companies over the past few years as Stretch was being developed and tested. Boston Dynamics will deliver a fleet of Stretch robots to multiple DHL warehouses throughout North America over the next three years. The deal with DHL marks the first commercial purchase of Stretch, which was unveiled in 2021. 

The investment is part of DHL Supply Chain’s Accelerated Digitalization agenda, a strategy for developing and scaling innovative solutions and new technologies. Stretch will tackle several box-moving tasks in the warehouse, beginning with truck unloading at select DHL facilities. Following the first deployment, the multi-purpose mobile robot will handle additional tasks to support other parts of the warehouse workflow, which will effectively automate warehouse operations.

“At DHL Supply Chain, we are committed to continuous innovation and digital transformation to optimize the end-to-end supply chain. Investing in warehouse automation plays an important role in increasing operational efficiency and improving service for our customers,” said Sally Miller, CIO, DHL Supply Chain North America. “We’re excited to partner with Boston Dynamics to deploy its best-in-class robotics in our warehouses. The Stretch robot addresses complex industry challenges through flexible automation, which we’ll be able to replicate and scale regionally and globally.”

Stretch’s technology builds upon Boston Dynamics’ decades of advancements in robotics to create a flexible, easily integrated solution that can work in any warehouse to increase the flow of goods and improve associate safety by taking over physically demanding tasks. Stretch is equipped with a compact, omni-directional mobile base, custom-designed lightweight arm as well as a smart gripper with advanced sensing and controls that can handle a large variety of box types and sizes. It also includes Boston Dynamics’ computer vision technology, which enables it to identify boxes easily and without any pre-programming. Stretch is capable of working autonomously through complex situations like disordered stacking configurations and recovering fallen boxes.

“Stretch is Boston Dynamics’ newest robot, designed specifically to remedy challenges within the warehouse space,” said Robert Playter, Boston Dynamics’ CEO. “We are thrilled to be working with DHL Supply Chain to deliver a fleet of robots that will further automate warehousing and improve safety for its associates. We believe Stretch can make a measurable impact on DHL’s business operations, and we’re excited to see the robot in action at scale.”

Deployment of the first Stretch units in DHL warehouses will begin this spring, and DHL plans to gradually scale Boston Dynamics’ robots for additional tasks and across multiple facilities in phases over the next few years.

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Researchers to Develop Solid Lubricant Coatings for Conveyor Systems

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A research and development team led by Min Zou, professor of mechanical engineering and an Arkansas Research Alliance Fellow, has received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop low-friction, durable, graphite-lubricant coatings for industrial conveyor systems.

Belt conveyors comprise about a quarter of the $7.65 billion global conveyor market, which has expanded significantly in recent years because of e-commerce. However, an enormous amount of energy is wasted in these systems. High sliding friction between conveyor belts and slider bed materials is responsible for more than half of the total energy losses in a flat conveyor system.

The researchers will develop novel graphite coatings that will significantly reduce energy consumption and equipment failure in conveyor systems. The research will also deepen a fundamental understanding of the novel coating technology to enable applications in other fields, which could lead to significant savings in many U.S. industries.

The technology is based on a unique, patented bonding approach, developed by Zou’s group, in which graphite coatings adhere tightly to a substrate material.

After developing and optimizing fast-coating deposition processes for conveyor materials, the researchers will build scalable coating processes for full-sized belt conveyors. They will then build a prototype for evaluating the coating performance and demonstrate the feasibility of the coatings for industrial applications.

The new project is a collaboration between university researchers and industry leaders. Zou’s team at the U of A will partner with researchers at Arkansas State University and Hytrol Conveyor Company Inc., the largest conveyor manufacturer in the U.S.

The researchers use a special machine to apply novel graphite coatings that will reduce energy consumption and equipment failure in conveyor systems.

Robert Fleming, assistant professor at Arkansas State; Ty Keller, Hytrol’s manager of product innovation; and Boyce Bonham, Hytrol’s chief engineer, will serve as co-principal investigators.

The project will support a doctoral student at the U of A, who will serve as the entrepreneurial lead, a master’s student at Arkansas State, and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups. They have benefited from site and national NSF I-Corps training and Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation support and training, as well as mentoring by Cynthia Sides, assistant vice chancellor for research and innovation at the U of A, and Douglas Hutchings, director of the Arkansas Research Alliance Academy.

Zou’s research focuses on nanoscale materials and manufacturing. She is an international expert on surface engineering and tribology — the study of friction, wear and lubrication in the design of bearings and interacting surfaces in motion. Zou has designed, refined and tested solid lubricant coatings for various applications. The coatings are thinner, more durable and environmentally superior to petroleum-based oil lubricants.

Zou holds the Twenty-First Century Chair of Materials, Manufacturing and Integrated Systems.

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Dematic automates warehouse of kitchen manufacturer Schmidt Groupe

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Dematic has automated the picking warehouse of French kitchen manufacturer Schmidt Groupe S.A.S. at its site in Lièpvre in Alsace. The automation technology provider developed a space-saving solution, featuring a multishuttle system for multiple-deep storage in nearly 6,000 locations as well as special tote conveyor technology. Within the multishuttle system, 12 shuttles control order sequencing. The conveyor system z requested items to various workstations. In this way, the Dematic solution provides complete automation of the previously manual storage and retrieval operation as well as picking goods for the entire material flow.

“The Dematic Multishuttle significantly increases speed, storage density, accuracy, and availability within the picking warehouse,” says Boris Herrmann, Process Manager at Schmidt Groupe S.A.S. “In addition, the overall system enables high throughput rates as well as error-free picking, guaranteeing us efficient and reliable order processing.” As one of the international market leaders for furniture manufacturing and distribution, Schmidt Groupe faced several intralogistics challenges. For example, managing the side panels, doors, fittings, and handles of a customized kitchen required more effective processes, so the company decided to automate the material flow at its Alsace site.

Order picking starts at the small parts workstations. There, operators put required parts into cartons using a pick-by-light system. Cartons are then transported to the subsequent stations by conveyor using special roller and belt conveyor technology that support the logistical processes. If larger items are needed for an order, the small parts carton is loaded onto a tray and stored or buffered in the Dematic Multishuttle, which provides space for 5,760 storage locations on 12 levels. Within the multishuttle system, a dozen shuttles handle automatic order sequencing as well as storage, transfer, and retrieval. The conveyor system then transports the filled totes and trays to the other workstations. A continuous scale checks the weight. When an order is complete, the sequenced totes are checked, cartons are closed, and shipping labels applied.

Dematic has also installed a WMS (Warehouse Management System) that optimally manages stocks and orders according to priority, with the most frequently requested items stored in the most accessible locations. A WinCC process visualization system developed by Siemens was also integrated into the solution for monitoring the technical processes. It enables a simple and clear information flow of all accruing data and provides a user interface. As Thomas Meyer-Jander, Director EMEA and Head of Marketing & Communications at Dematic, explains: “In this way, users have access to the current operation status and can use that data to derive optimizations for improved performance.” The Schmidt Groupe’s assessment is correspondingly positive. Herrmann sums it up, “Our throughput and delivery accuracy goals have been more than met. With Dematic, we have the right supplier – due to their intralogistics know-how and expertise, they have been valuable resource, and our relationship has been characterized by cooperation and partnership.”

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Orion’s Compact RTC Rotary Tower Automatic Wrapper Integrates with Existing Conveyance

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Orion Packaging Systems, a division of ProMach, responded to industry demands by creating a space-saving rotary automatic wrapper that easily integrates with new or existing conveyance.

Orion’s Rotary Tower Automatic (RTC) Stretch Wrapper with Conveyance is the ideal solution for easy integration with 18″ pass-height conveyors due to its compact size, affordability, and the option to expand with additional conveyance.

The RTC is fully automatic and attaches the stretch film at the cycle start, cutting it at the end. The forklift operator simply places the pallet-load on the infeed conveyor and pulls a lanyard switch while moving away to collect the next load. This design increases employee safety by removing them from proximity of the moving rotary arm.

In addition to the compact size, expandability and increased employee safety, the RTC has:

  • 20″ Insta-Thread™ Film Carriage standard with 260% pre-stretch
  • Revo-Logic technology with photo-eye sensor carriage ensuring precise application of programmed wraps and maximizing load containment and film yield
  • Separate up and down film carriage speed control and top and bottom adjustable wrap counts, customizing wrapping for each load
  • Long lasting AC motors and Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) controllers, providing low maintenance
  • Labor saving film tail clamp with cut & wipe that automatically secures film, allowing faster output by reducing per-load wrapping

Orion’s RTC Stretch Wrapper delivers performance and cost-savings to new or existing wrapping systems, providing increased production and output.

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