DHL Supply Chain and AutoStore discuss burgeoning partnership

DHL Supply Chain plans to deploy more AutoStore ASRS worldwide.
DHL plans to deploy more AutoStore ASRS worldwide. Source: DHL Supply Chain

Earlier this month, DHL Supply Chain and AutoStore announced that they have expanded their partnership. The companies plan to deploy robots to four warehouses in addition to the nine that already use AutoStore’s technology.

AutoStore said at the time that its automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), which include 1,000 robots worldwide, already handle 800,000 bins. The new deployments will bring that total to 1.2 million bins, according to the Nedre Vats, Norway-based company.

DHL Supply Chain added that it intends to build five more facilities that could use ASRS. The Bonn, Germany-based third-party logistics provider (3PL) has been working with AutoStore and other automation suppliers around the world since 2012.

The global ASRS market could experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.88% from $7.9 billion in 2022 to $14.38 billion by 2030, according to Verified Market Research. It noted that the need to optimize the use of both personnel and space is driving warehouse demand.

David Clear, vice president for global accounts at AutoStore, and Dr. Dietmar Steins, executive vice president for global solutions design at DHL Supply Chain, spoke with Mobile Robot Guide about their expanded partnership.

Expanded partnership was years in the works

Can you break down the timeline for this collaboration? How long have you been working on these new deployments?

Clear: It has been in the works for a long time. DHL has been a market leader in adopting automation for the past five to 10 years. AutoStore’s first project with it was in Singapore, and in the past two to three years, we’ve been involved in Europe.

There has been real growth in the number and variety of deployed projects, with four sites in North America, four in Europe, one in Asia-Pacific, and others in the pipeline.

Close connections on both sides allowed for shared knowledge of capabilities and requirements. AutoStore’s partner network helped to design, deploy, and support this rollout.

Steins: DHL’s longstanding relationship of more than 10 years has developed into a more strategic partnership with AutoStore. Automation and digitalization are key enablers for growth, and AutoStore is a solution especially suitable for e-commerce parts.

[AutoStore’s ASRS] provides a competitive advantage – it’s an interesting technology for handling smaller pieces and is scalable. We’ve gone from being a vendor and a customer to partners.

DHL has tested a lot of automation. What are your requirements, and how did AutoStore meet them?

Steins: It’s no secret that e-commerce requires high throughput of smaller items. We’ve deployed technology not limited to AutoStore. It’s super-important for us to drive innovation, but innovation also needs to be scalable.

We can deploy AutoStore’s ASRS at scale. We’re the No. 1 3PL, so making the system easy to deploy makes it highly attractive to us. We do regular screenings of technologies, and AutoStore is in our “sweet spot.”

Clear: AutoStore did evolve to meet expectations. We spent a lot of time on maturing the product and on being able to grow quickly with a variety of businesses. The configurability of our core modules and no customization of systems allows for economies of scale.

We have expanded our team of account managers and training to work with DHL and other customers with global operations. We give tailored support by region, after spending time with relevant people in Germany, Singapore, and Columbus, Ohio.

AutoStore’s expansion of existing skill sets and marrying of key requirements to deliverables and benefits provides a direct feedback loop. It’s very much a two-way street. From design and deployment to production capabilities, we have to offer a full, end-to-end solution.


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DHL Supply Chain follows strategy for digitalization, data

How does the ASRS hardware fit into your overall robotics strategy?

Steins: Robotics is part of our accelerated digitalization strategy. As DHL deploys technology across business operations – from collaborative bots to handhelds, expanding into automation – the first thing we thought about was scalability and modularity. AutoStore’s grids were like Locus and 6 River Systems‘ mobile robots, in the sense that they also scale well.

We collaborated to allow AutoStore to prepare for our demands, which comes close to joint business planning. The system fits into our broader range of robotic systems, from smaller-scale cooperative robots for higher throughput.

How important is data to your long-term plans?

Clear: AutoStore recently developed and deployed Unify Analytics. It takes the data that our systems are recording and feeds that into real-time, standardized KPI [key performance indicator] monitoring across sites.

Since different sites may have different requirements, one benefit of AutoStore is that they can apply the same core hardware in slightly different ways to meet those requirements. We provide consistency and a tiered approach for operations, management, and executive perspectives.

AutoStore provides visibility from the individual robot to a site to all sites. In addition, with our integrators, AutoStore can provide reporting tools that detail interactions with any third-party technology. We’re pragmatic about it and don’t want to look at technologies in isolation.

A benefit of our relationship with DHL is that we’re all open about requirements.

Steins: The data supports our standardization agenda. One of the most-said quotes lately is that “Data is the new gold,” but companies are struggling to mine it.

To utilize these advantages for ourselves and our customers, we meticulously applied our acquired knowledge across various dimensions to use this data effectively.

As you scale up ASRS deployments, how will DHL Supply Chain and AutoStore manage service and support?

Clear: A large number of our sites have super users, so they don’t need an onsite representative from AutoStore or a third party for troubleshooting. We provide training and relevant systems integration.

Each region also has active Tier 3 support, which can then fall back into our research and development teams.

Steins: As we expand the implementation of these ASRSes, DHL Supply Chain and AutoStore have a comprehensive strategy for service and support. Our approach involves multiple levels of maintenance, which can dynamically evolve over time.

The strength of our collaboration lies in the flexibility of these tiers, allowing us to adapt and enhance our capabilities as our understanding grows within our operational domain.

AutoStore and DHL look ahead

You’ve set ambitious long-term objectives for scaling. What are some goals for your partnership in the coming year?

Steins: Finding the right technology for a customer is the ultimate goal, to not compromise efficiency for our customers. So, it is difficult to commit to a number, but we have a mutual understanding and we are working together on quicker implementations.

This ability of high speed and high quality implementations with the general e-commerce trend will clearly drive the number of installs up.

Clear: This industry is built on speed and quality. At every point on an individual project, we’re looking to increase the speed of qualification as the right solution. This involves design, contracting, and deployment on site.

Customer feedback helps us make sure each deployment is smoother than the last. With DHL’s team, AutoStore is improving every aspect of each project and the ease of scale.

Steins: Another element driving the demand for automation is dramatic labor scarcity. Automation can help with getting stuff out the door, increasing throughput, and decreasing walking distances — which helps us attract and retain talented labor.

Eugene Demaitre
Written by

Eugene Demaitre

Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of the robotics group at WTWH Media. He was senior editor of The Robot Report from 2019 to 2020 and editorial director of Robotics 24/7 from 2020 to 2023. Prior to working at WTWH Media, Demaitre was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and Robotics Business Review.

Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master's from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.