- FedEx has completed the installation of four robotic sortation arms from Yaskawa America and Plus One Robotics at its Memphis Hub, according to a company announcement emailed to Supply Chain Dive. The process began in March as part of the carrier's efforts to handle increased e-commerce parcel volume amid the coronavirus pandemic, the company said.
- The four arms use suctions to pick up and transfer small parcels from bins onto conveyor belts in the hub. Together, their throughput is equivalent to that of three FedEx employees, Aaron Prather, senior advisor for technology planning and research at FedEx Express, told Supply Chain Dive via email.
- "We see automation as an opportunity to enhance our team members' jobs, make them more comfortable and easy, and above all, as safe as possible," Prather said. "Incorporating this robotic installation at the Memphis hub has given team members the opportunity to take on additional tasks within the operations."
Peak season has come early for the e-commerce industry this year driven by consumers ordering goods online rather than shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. DHL said it was seeing peak season volumes as early as April, and hired additional staff in June as the volume uptick is expected to continue through the summer. FedEx's and UPS' operations have been strained by the pandemic, resulting in the suspension of service guarantees and the imposition of peak surcharges.
Scaling operations to meet demand while keeping workers safe is a concern, particularly for carriers and warehouse operators designated as essential services. This has led to an increasing number of firms looking to robotics and automation to help workers maintain a safe distance from one another.
While FedEx's robotic arms cover the amount of work done by three human staffers, the goal isn't to replace them as the carrier is continuing to hire staff to meet essential delivery needs, Prather said.
"We’ve progressed our work with robots and automation," he said. "FedEx Ground has been working with Vecna Robotics to test their autonomous tuggers to facilitate the movement of oversized goods within their hub operations." The carrier began working with the company during peak season 2018, aiming to ultimately eliminate the need for human drivers in its Greensboro, North Carolina, facility.
FedEx also started exploring the use of small, autonomous delivery robots for same-day retail deliveries last year.
The logistics provider did not say whether it plans to add additional robotic sortation arms or deploy the technology outside of its Memphis hub.
This piece has been updated to reflect the robotics installation began in March. A previous version said it began in May. We have also updated the piece to reflect that the statements are from Aaron Prather, senior advisor for technology planning and research at FedEx Express.