December 1, 2017

DHL continues e-commerce network investments

Firm says it will handle peak season with increased hiring, warehouse robotics.

By Ben Ames

German transport and logistics giant Deutsche Post DHL Group is investing in automation and seasonal hiring to handle the annual surge of e-commerce parcels it expects to handle this winter peak season, the company said yesterday.

DHL is hiring about 6,000 seasonal workers across its four business units in North America to support its contract logistics, fulfillment, freight transportation, and express delivery operations, Lee Spratt, CEO of DHL E-commerce, said at a press conference.

The move is an attempt to handle an expected swell of e-commerce orders in December, which will present the firm with operational challenges, as well as revenue opportunities, DHL said. The company is forecasting U.S. peak-season volume growth of between 15 percent and 40 percent across its four business units.

DHL's investment is part of a plan announced last year to build eight U.S. order fulfillment centers by 2020 at a cost of $137 million. In addition, the firm's DHL Express unit said last year it would spend $185 million on infrastructure, technology, and hiring in its U.S. operations.

Part of that effort includes expanding the company's pilot programs in warehousing technologies such as robotics and augmented reality, Jim Gehr, president, retail, of DHL Supply Chain, the firm's contract logistics arm, said at Thursday's press conference.

DHL Supply Chain said in April that it was testing the use of collaborative robots—or co-bots—designed to work with human warehouse and DC staff. Built by Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics, the robots act as companions for piece-picking workers, transporting picked items so DHL's human pickers don't have to push carts or carry bins.

That strategy has helped to improve picking accuracy and efficiency, and is helping DHL to leverage increased warehouse automation to handle e-commerce trends such as consumers' expectations for faster order delivery, the evolution of omnichannel fulfillment, and a growing scarcity of warehouse labor, Gehr said at the press conference.

"U.S. retailers' success for the entire year can hinge on sales and supply chain execution over the last eight weeks of the year," Gehr said in a separate statement. "With fast-changing consumer habits, rapidly increasing volumes, and a tight labor market, we see significant potential for new technologies, such as robotics and augmented reality, to drive productivity improvements within our customers' supply chains."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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