Image: a 'Sawyer' robot in use at a DHL site. Photo via Computerworld UK.
When a business operates across hundreds of sites globally, the little things add up. And so German logistics company DHL has kick started a series of internet of things (IoT) pilots across its sites around the world - the latest being an automotive plant in Liuzhou, China, with the help of Chinese technology company Huawei.
The proof of concept, delivered jointly with China Mobile and Huawei, will make use of Narrowband IoT and run with 100 DHL drivers. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is a low power wide area (LPWA) technology that is designed to allow IoT devices to transmit data to and from one another across a network, and was standardised by the 3GPP group in June last year.
Inbound truck drivers check a mobile app and are directed to a free dock as soon as it becomes available, and the results so far have seen the average waiting time halve from 40 to 20 minutes.
Trucks can be prioritised according to the site's needs, and incoming shipments can be sent to the dock most appropriate for them. DHL expects the pilot to run until the end of September.
DHL has previously partnered with Cisco and IoT startup Conduce to introduce IoT 'cockpits' into its warehouses in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. These systems took data from equipment and visualised it for real-time operation management.
"We are working with everyone in the industry who offered us solutions that are interesting to us," says Dr Markus Voss, CIO for DHL, speaking with Computerworld UK at Huawei Connect in Shanghai, China. "This is early stage in terms of the technology and we are open to partnerships, not just with tech giants but also startups, as well as research institutes. It really is an ecosystem of partners."
That ecosystem could also include smart cities or governments that have a certain need DHL could provide through its expertise in the field, and the company has run pilots for smarter city logistics.
But Huawei, the Chinese business that went from providing switching equipment in the domestic market to becoming a worldwide player in networking and cloud, has long had a partnership with DHL.
"We have been working with Huawei for decades, they have been a provider for us, and we have been a provider for them, so this is a long-term relationship," says Voss.
"The trial has already proved its readiness: we have reduced waiting time, which is awesome for productivity, as well as error rates quite dramatically. That, I would consider a success, so we can roll this out to other parts of our operations."
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