- NFI will deploy robotics manufacturer Boston Dynamics’ “Stretch” autonomous robot across its warehouses in North America to speed its unloading process, the company announced last week.
- The New Jersey-based logistics provider will debut the truck unloading robot next year in a pilot program at its Savannah, Georgia, warehouse.
- NFI’s Integrated Design and Solutions team will scale the technology across its network in the years following the pilot, Dustin Gray, senior director of solution design and innovation, told Supply Chain Dive.
Other robot manufacturers have also released automated unloading technology in recent years as logistics providers strive to keep up with rising e-commerce demand. In 2019, both Honeywell International and Siemens AG unveiled fully automated truck unloaders to speed warehouse throughput and improve worker safety.
Logistics giants such as FedEx also continue to invest in warehouse automation. FedEx has invested heavily in package sortation automation technology, and is now more focused on unloading and loading technology for its largest and smallest packages.
NFI’s first use of Stretch in its pilot will focus on unloading containers at the Savannah warehouse. The company hopes to equip more of its warehouses with the technology to supplement labor and allow employees to focus on more value-added tasks.
“We would have the robot inside the container, which is generally pretty dirty and it can get hot in there. You’re doing a lot of reaching and bending,” said Gray. “We're taking the employee out of that environment and putting them in more value-added environments.”
The robot’s initial application is to unload trucks, and will later expand to build orders. Its application will reduce the amount of heavy lifting and repetitive movements workers must do, Gray said.
The rollout will focus on NFI’s eight transloading warehouses across the U.S., Gray said. However, he added that there is an opportunity to deploy Stretch in any facility with floor-loaded containers.
With a robotic arm and an advanced vision system, Stretch can handle a variety of packages up to 50 pounds and does not require SKU number pre-programming or box size information. It can also autonomously recover packages that shift or fall during the unloading process, according to the release.
The deal makes NFI the second logistics provider to invest in a fleet of Stretch robots. DHL Supply Chain signed an agreement in January to deploy the robot in its distribution centers.
“Demand for goods continues to rise, and robots like Stretch can help alleviate some of the challenges associated with surging demand,” Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics, said in the joint release.