DPD Uses Swarm Robotics for Parcel Sorting
7/28/2023 New Creations Machinery Change Innovative Processes Article

DPD Uses Swarm Robotics for Parcel Sorting

Parcel delivery company DDP is testing a new technology for sorting parcels. Robots are being used instead of classic conveyor systems. The aim is to make logistics more flexible.

DPD's animation shows many loadrunners. DPD's animation shows many loadrunners.

After tests with the “Loadrunner” swarm robot, DPD was convinced by the incrementally scalable system. With the help of the robots, completely new logistics locations should be possible in the future. As soon as the system is ready for the market, the parcel service provider plans to roll out the sorting robot in its warehouses.

DPD tested the sorting robots a few months ago in a warehouse in Cologne-Porz under almost real conditions, reports the Lebensmittelzeitung. In the process, the vehicles, which are roughly the size of mowing robots, picked up parcels at two pick-up stations and distributed them to the service provider’s delivery vehicles.

“The test consisted of sorting real parcels in one of our warehouses with the load runners,” reports Lukas Bauer, Senior Group Manager Corporate Real Estate & Technology. Bauer and his team drive innovation topics at DPD. Due to the robot’s high speeds of around ten meters per second, he says, they were skeptical at first. “But the test went very well. The Loadrunner was already able to handle 70 percent of DPD shipments,” Bauer says of the two-week pilot project.

New Projects in Automation

The Loadrunner is a system of sorting robots developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML). Thanks to their swarm intelligence, the driverless transport vehicles permanently exchange routes with each other and distribute orders independently. The individual Loadrunner can transport packages in the range from 200 grams to 31.5 kilograms. Bulkier goods are to be moved by the devices in a cluster. With this flexibility, the robots should be able to replace classic sorting and conveyor technology, at least in part. Automation specialist Kion has been on board as an industrial partner since 2021 and is currently driving the development to series maturity, the Lebensmittelzeitung further reports.

Flexible Logistics Are the Goal

Bauer is confident that after further improvements, such as a larger pick-up area, it will also be possible to achieve handling quotas of up to 90 percent of all shipments at the parcel service provider. This would definitely make the system competitive. In any case, DPD plans to use the sorting robots in its warehouses in the future. “We want to integrate the Loadrunner into our everyday business as soon as it is ready for the market,” Bauer says.

In contrast to today’s very rigid requirements for logistics real estate due to fixed conveyor systems, the Loadrunner could provide better adaptability to existing real estate. According to Bauer, in the future, the Loadrunner will make it possible to move into standard logistics real estate very quickly while being flexible in terms of material flow. Vacant office properties could be made usable for city logistics with the help of the robot swarm. “Flexibility is the trump card in logistics,” Bauer says, reporting that his team is already considering whether conveyor systems could, in the future, be replaced to some extent by the swarm robots.

DPD is continuously testing new technologies for automation and process optimization, according to Bauer. “It’s important for us to continuously test technologies to see if they are relevant to our business.” In more and more places, for example, the parcel service provider is relying on image recognition using computer vision technology, he says. “Using shape recognition, we are already sorting things out and recognizing dangerous goods pictograms,” Bauer says. A team of data scientists and programmers at DPD is writing its own object recognition algorithms for this purpose.