Sorting robots installed at FedEx distribution centre

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FedEx has completed the installation of four robotic sortation arms from Yaskawa America and software from Plus One Robotics at its distribution hub in Memphis, Tennessee.

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. Their combined throughput is equivalent to that of three FedEx employees, said Aaron Prather, senior advisor for technology planning and research at FedEx Express.

“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,” said Prather. “Incorporating this robotic installation at the Memphis hub has given team members the opportunity to take on additional tasks within the operations.”

Human workers are still employed to directly oversee the robots, which sometimes get stuck when something gets in the way of the camera or some sensor.

Though the robots each work at half the speed a human is capable of, one human can manage eight of the robots. According to FedEx, the robotic systems will get faster over time as the company learns more through testing.

What’s more, FedEx said it aims to process 80% of packages through automated facilities by next year.