Study: 4 disruptive megatrends in transport logistics

Many “4.0”-related technologies have the potential to transform transport logistics through disruption. These megatrends include technology-driven innovations, as well as technological further developments. The study “Is it all 4.0 or just hype?“ (German: “Alles 4.0 oder doch nur Hype?”) by RWTH Aachen looked at these key technologies. Here are the results.

Megatrend 1: decentralized organization across platforms

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Although the logistics industry has always tended to distribute its processes locally, organization has mainly been conducted centrally. The researchers at RWTH Aachen think that this model is outdated, and that, in future, network structures will emerge, with the coordinators planning together in collaboration. The advantage of this decentralized organization, they say, is more effective planning and more economical deployment of transportation – especially for small companies.

The basis for this would be platforms that allow knowledge to be consolidated and enable the user to carry out organization and processes more easily. It should be possible to achieve such a platform culture in a several steps:

  1. Facilitating contract awarding with communication solutions
  2. Developing structures for the administration of cooperative networks
  3. Adopting optimization strategies for holistic improvement
  4. Broadly applicable planning and recommendations for action

Megatrend 2: Big Data and analysis of Big Data

The daily volume of data collected is rapidly increasing. In transport logistics, gathered information can be used to come up with recommendations for action. The researchers in Aachen have described these Big Data methods as having very high potential.

A good example of this is “anticipatory shipping” from Amazon. Its aim is for logistics centers to supply in advance, based on information collected through past orders.

However, accurate predictions can not be achieved through data collection alone – the data also needs to be cleaned up, processed, and summarized. Only once raw data sets have been converted to smart data – harmonized, aggregated volumes of data – is it possible to make decisions and obtain reliable results. Ultimately, these causal chains can be automated and made into self-learning, intelligent networks.

Megatrend 3: autonomous driving

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According to the researchers, one of the most extensive megatrends is autonomous driving. This technology, they say, is not only affecting our mobility behavior but logistics as a whole. Understandably, it is becoming increasingly significant in political discussions and in technical operations.

With platooning, the study suggests, there are already some initial application examples that are not too far away from being used in real operations. Besides this, the industry is already exploring the socioeconomic impact of autonomous driving, particularly regarding the changing role of employees in the transport trade. Cargo carriers and attendants are to have a more relaxed working environment, leading to increased safety in trucks. Although, according to the researchers, autonomous transporters create a disconnect between drivers and trucks, it should lead to more regular working times and breaks. Drivers are to benefit greatly from this.

Megatrend 4: additive manufacturing processes

At first glance, 3D printing has little to do with the transportation industry, the researchers at RWTH Aachen say. However, manufacturing methods may well shift – or completely transform – the flow of goods.

According to the results of the study, for example, replacement parts could be produced in decentralized locations, meaning closer to the customer. In this way, the transport route of the product is minimized. It is only necessary to deliver the granulate for the printer beforehand, they add. The granular structure of the material means that transportation can be carried out very efficiently and with minimum space requirements. “The transportation processes can be further generalized”, say the researchers from the region of North Rhine-Westphalia. Furthermore, logistics costs would sink, they go on to say.

“#BigData, #3DPrinting, #AutonomousDriving: “Is it all 4.0 or just hype?” – Findings of Freight #Transport and #Logistics Board Division of @RWTH Aachen “

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They also believe that additive manufacturing can impact product lifecycle management. Therefore, in light of increasing individualization of products, “additive manufacturing processes are highly significant because prototypical components or assemblies can be implemented faster and more efficiently.”

To secure its own share of the 3D printing supply chain, they add, it is up to the logistics industry to develop “solutions to expand raw material storage”. Additionally, the transport sector itself can become a manufacturer of printable parts. According to the researchers, business models for this are already in development.

Conclusion: it’s about tapping the potential

Exciting times await the logistics industry – the researchers at RWTH Aachen are confident of this. However, only time will tell who the winners and who the losers will be. It is still too early to say since 4.0 technologies are still in an early stage of development. The team from Aachen believes there is still huge – currently dormant – potential in all industries. Exploiting these opportunities will also be one of the most important tasks in the transport sector over the coming decades.