Dexterity robots to load Sagawa Express trucks in Japanese deployment

Dexterity's DexR dual-armed truck unloading robots loading the back of a truck with cardboard boxes.
DexR has two arms to double the pick rate and fully reach into trailers for loading and unloading. | Source: Dexterity

Sagawa Express Co., a Japanese logistics and delivery provider, will soon be using Dexterity Inc.’s AI-powered robots to load its parcel trucks. The partners plan to roll out the systems this year with help from SG Holdings Co. and Sumitomo Corp.

Sagawa Express said it will deploy Dexterity’s DexR robot with dual arms and onboard AI, released in September 2023. Dexterity said those features allow DexR to match operational loading speeds and packing requirements without knowing the size, weight, or shape of boxes before they arrive.

This process is like “playing 3D Tetris with up to 50 lb. [22.6 kg] boxes,” said the Redwood City, Calif.-based company.

“Sagawa shares our vision of supply chain innovation in Japan,” Samir Menon, founder and CEO of Dexterity, said in a release. “With our shared approach to skill-rich, adaptable robots, Sagawa, Sumitomo, and Dexterity will help close the transportation and logistics capacity gap predicted for 2030.”

The companies plan to start with a smaller deployment. Before scaling, Dexterity said it will give its AI algorithms a chance to learn from Sagawa Express’ logistics operations. The company said this will allow DexR to fit seamlessly into Sagawa’s existing logistics infrastructure.

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Robots could be the answer to Japan’s labor gap

Japan will face labor challenges in the coming years due to several reasons. The first is that the country’s aging workforce will affect many sectors.

In addition, Japan’s new overtime regulations for truck drivers will take effect this year, limiting their annual overtime, which is expected to result in a major gap in labor. If this gap is left unaddressed, a third of all cargo could go undelivered, resulting in a 10 million yen ($76 billion U.S.) hit to the Japanese economy by 2030, Reuters reported.

Robots could be the answer to this looming labor shortage, said Dexterity. Japan is no stranger to robotics — it’s both the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturer and the world’s most automated country, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). However, it lacks robots in logistics operations.

Placing cargo in and out of trucks and warehouses is one of the most time-consuming tasks for truck drivers, making it a suitable task for automation, according to the IFR. Dexterity sad that DexR can help relieve these labor issues to help get truckers back on the road faster.

Sagawa said it initiated the partnership to mitigate potential labor gaps. Its priority is to automate the most physically demanding tasks the team faces.

“Sagawa’s core vision means that packages must be delivered quickly and with care,” stated Seiichi Watanabe, general manager of operations at Sagawa Express. “Our manual truck loaders have been at the forefront of providing this experience for our customers.”

“The physical challenges associated with loading and declining labor force in Japan mean we must use innovation to help our operations team handle the toughest challenges in parcel distribution,” Watanabe said. “By leveraging Dexterity’s advanced AI technology, our team will be able to focus on higher-value-add tasks without interrupting our operations.”

Dexterity aims to deploy 1,500 robots by 2026

Sagawa will working with Sumitomo, Dexterity’s exclusive distributor in Japan, to begin the truck unloading partnership in 2024. Following a successful first pilot, Sumitomo plans to integrate Dexterity’s robots into Sagawa’s newest distribution center. 

Dexterity announced its partnership With Sumitomo in October 2022. The companies set a goal to deploy 1,500 intelligent material-handling robots in Japan by 2026.

Sumitomo signed a distributorship agreement in Japan with Dexterity to promote the robots-as-a-service (RaaS) business in Japanese warehouses. The company invested in Dexterity’s 2020 funding round through its U.S.-based corporate venture-capital arm Presidio Ventures.

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Automated Warehouse staff