One of the most game-changing aspects of robotics, AI and automation is that it allows employees to work on less menial and physically demanding jobs, freeing them up to be more creative, innovative and productive. We look at how this is happening right now, in real business.

As the world’s leading logistics company, and one of the UK’s biggest employers, DHL Supply Chain is investing in the future across many aspects of their business. They’re investing in their people and nurturing new talent, while taking leaps forward with automation and hi-tech robotics. And at the forefront of all their innovations is sustainability.

For ITN Business’ ‘The Future of Work’ programme, our reporter spoke to DHL leaders at their new carbon-neutral warehouse in Coventry, to discover how the industry is evolving.

Approved by DHL

“Investing in our people is critical,” explains Saul Resnick, DHL Supply Chain’s CEO, UK and Ireland. “But we also need to attract new talent. Our industry is not as labour intensive as it once was. We are now much more reliant on automation and robotics to support the more physical tasks that we once would have done manually.” 

Many of the bright young minds behind DHL’s in-house Digital Manufacturing team have come through their apprenticeship or graduate programme.

“We’ve built a really innovative team here who are solving problems for logistics that just aren’t being tackled by the market,” says Richard Foster, Director of Digital Manufacturing at DHL Supply Chain.

DHL’s Digital Manufacturing team talk robotics.

“We have machines filling advent calendars, for instance, which was previously all done manually. That means that one person’s work — where everything was done by hand — now involves working alongside a machine, safely, and doing five times the productivity they were doing before.”

“It enables us to use the workforce in a different way, allowing them to go and do something far more productive.”

If DHL want to adapt the machines for different jobs, they simply print new components for the robots. And all the parts are printed from plant-based materials — it’s both sustainable and cheap.

According to a recent report by consulting firm McKinsey, automation will represent at least 30% of capital spending in the next five years for logistics and fulfillment players.

DHL’s robots help move heavy loads in the Coventry warehouse.

Some aspects of warehouse activity are more suited to automation than others, with routine tasks at the head of the line. Activities such as picking, packing, sorting, movement from point to point, and quality assurance are already automated to some extent, and these will continue to see heavy investment over the coming years. 

As automation increases, people will remain crucial to logistics for tasks that require creativity, complex decision-making and adaptability.

Watch the full Future of Work programme or have a listen to our Future of Work podcast.

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