FedEx Corp. has installed four parcel-sorting robots at its Memphis hub facility to keep up with e-commerce growth, and retrained several employees who used to do that work to supervise and operate those robots instead, the company said Friday.
Two robotics vendors—Yaskawa America and Plus One—collaborated to implement an industrial robotic arm that transports packages from a collection bin to a conveyor belt to be scanned and inducted into the sort. FedEx Express has now installed four of those arms to streamline the repetitive process of sorting small packages and letters.
Having robots complete that repetitive task allows workers to focus on higher-value, more productive work, the Memphis, Tennessee-based transport and logistics giant said. That is a familiar refrain from many robotics vendors, who argue that their technology will empower, not displace, human workers. But this is one of the first instances of logistics providers actually applying that principal to its own workforce.
Many employees volunteered for the training plan after the robots were installed in the Small Package Sort System (SPSS) division. “All of them had worked in the operations long enough to see how the robots played a role in the complete operational process,” FedEx said in an emailed statement.
“The vendors provided a baseline training module that was then customized by the FedEx Training department into a complete package that brought the elements of the new technology in line with FedEx procedures,” the company said. While the training was specific to the specific vendors who supplied the robots, its key themes can be applied to numerous other deployments with other robot vendors in the future, FedEx said.
San Antonio-based Pick One says its product uses artificial intelligence (AI)-based software to guide robots to see where to pick and place packages. The venture capital-backed firm markets that technology through partnerships with various robot manufacturers, which in this case is Yaskawa America’s Miamisburg, Ohio-based Motoman Robotics Division.