Hire robots are rolling in to help logistics companies deal with the holiday crush

Hire robots are rolling in to help logistics companies deal with the holiday crush

Logistics companies looking for extra help during the holidays are renting temporary package-handling robots, which can be returned to their manufacturers when online shopping orders subside after the seasonal rush.

Robot vendors say rental robots, which have grown in popularity across the industry in recent years, can be added to existing fleets of warehouse, distribution and fulfillment robots at any time to support the expected jump in demand.

Bots are increasingly being used to pick up and sort packages, receive and unload them, move heavy loads and replenish inventory shelves, among other automated tasks, they say.

Sally Miller, Chief Information Officer, DHL North America Supply Chain, a unit of DHL Express

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, said it plans to deploy “a fair number” of temporary robots at several of the company’s retail-focused locations. Miller said Locus Robotics robots — which the manufacturer calls “surge robots” — will be used to take and fulfill orders. Finally, DHL expects to have about 2,000 robots operating in its facilities by the end of the year, it said.

Locus Robotics, a seven-year-old startup in Wilmington, Massachusetts, said a third of its 90-plus customers worldwide — including DHL, Ceva Logistics AG, Boots UK Ltd and Geodis SA — order makeshift robots. for peak holiday this year. The company said that’s roughly up from the quarter it used last year.

“We have over 10,000 contract robots in the field,” Locus CEO Rick Volk said, a number that includes both short- and long-term contracts.

Mr. Volk said that the demand for robots in the logistics industry is growing driven by a shortage of workersongoing supply chain disruptions and continued momentum from the sharp increase in online shopping due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Spending in the global logistics robotics market, which was estimated to be worth $2.6 billion in 2020, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 22.94%, reaching an estimated $10.97 billion by 2027, according to data analytics firm Research and Markets.


Amazon.com a company ,

Which is by far the largest user of bots in the sector, there are more than 20,000 Logistics robots of all kinds in use todayAs estimated by an IT research and consulting firm

Gartner a company

Robots from Locus Robotics are awaiting publication.


Bots site

Analysts said that rental robots known as bots as a service are widely used in manufacturing, but are relatively new to the logistics industry. Under the model, users are charged fees similar to subscription fees from third-party bot companies, at varying rates based on the type of tasks performed, processing volumes, or types of packages handled.

By leasing robots, companies are spared from high initial costs and ongoing maintenance expenses. On the downside, orders for subscription-based bots need to be placed well in advance of an expected spike in demand—which can be hard to predict in an uncertain economy—to allow vendors enough time to program and install the bots for specific tasks.

Pitney Bowes a company ,

The 102-year-old mail and package processing company has deployed subscription-based robots at its e-commerce hub in Stockton, California, to sort packages during the holiday season. Additional robots, courtesy of Ambi Robotics of Berkeley, California a company , The company has helped deal with increased packages.

Pitney Bowes now expects to have at least 68 Ambi Robotics systems in operation in nearly a dozen e-commerce centers globally within the next three months, part of a four-year, $23 million deal announced in earlier this year, a Pitney Bowes spokesperson said.

The process of outfitting a company with a rental robot typically involves performing a 3D scan of a facility and entering the data into an AI-powered program, said Saman Farid, co-founder and CEO of subscription robot supply company Formec Technologies Inc. Software designed to create a mockup of a robot’s mechanical, electrical, and software systems: “Then we actually build it, put it in place, and run it,” he says.

Formic is also taking steps to ensure customers only pay when the bots are running: “If their system isn’t working for any reason, they don’t pay for it,” said Mr. Freed.

Volk, of Locus Robotics, said the company hopes many logistics companies will retain their temporary robots after seasonal hikes, as a way to achieve year-round efficiencies.

If nothing else, he said, rising bots could be useful in the weeks following the holidays: “These bots can also handle returns,” said Mr. Volk.

Write to Angus Loten at Angus.Loten@wsj.com

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