DHL deploys autonomous forklifts in Belgium

  • April 4, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

DHL Supply Chain has introduced autonomous forklifts at its multi-user warehouse in Bornem, Belgium.

This installation of autonomous indoor robotic pallet movers is the result of a collaboration between contract logistics company DHL, robotics firm Logisnext and consumer goods company Unilever to use automated technology to increase warehouse efficiency, productivity and workplace safety.

Autonomous forklifts can handle horizontal and vertical movements of palletised goods, making them useful in sectors that are characterised by full-pallet handling, such as the consumer, retail and automotive sectors.

The autonomous forklifts can move 1000 pallets per day, creating a smooth, accurate and stable flow of goods within the warehouse, operating round the clock. The autonomous reach trucks can manage the transportation of base volumes, while manual forklifts can still be added if higher volumes are needed. This flexibility is crucial and is supported by the DHL Robotics Hub, a platform for standardised plug-and-play integration of robotics into the warehouse management system.

“As part of DHL’s accelerated digitalisation strategy, we are continuously looking for opportunities to bring robotics and automation technologies to our sites to improve operations and bring value to our customers,” said John Scherders, CEO for DHL Supply Chain in Benelux and the Nordics. “Following similar deployments in our North America and UK and Ireland business, we have now deployed the first commercial fleet of autonomous forklifts in mainland Europe. These trucks can operate across the full height of the warehouse and provide a flexible and scalable answer to the labour-tight market. With Logisnext, we found a partner to deploy this in a warehouse operation with very limited changes to the warehouse infrastructure.”

Selim Tansug, Unilever’s vice president of logistics for Europe, added: “Unilever is constantly looking for new technologies to incorporate into our world-class logistics operations. Building on our existing collaborative partnership with DHL, the introduction of this new fleet of autonomous forklifts will improve productivity, safety and agility, allowing us to focus on providing more value to our customers, our consumers and in using our scale for good”

As part of its digitalisation agenda, DHL Supply Chain regularly assesses new technologies that can be deployed on a commercial scale. In addition to robotic and wearable devices, DHL relies on software and data analytics that can provide real-time information on its logistics networks. Algorithms and artificial intelligence implemented with access to big data have proven to be game changers in global supply chain planning, and DHL says it will continue to expand their deployment.