Leipzig Automotive Logistics Forum, Part 1

The Boundaries Between Manufacturing and Logistics Blur

When the automotive and logistics industries meet, it always concerns one thing: process, process, process. This year’s Automobile Logistics Forum, organized by the Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) and the Federal Logistics Association (BVL), was no exception.

“Break Down The Boundaries”

There once was a time when one could say, “over here are the automobile manufacturers, and over there are their partners from logistics. Here is the value-creating activity, and there is the flow of goods.” This separation of the two areas has long been a thing of the past. Car manufacturers employ first-class logisticians in their ranks and logisticians take over assembly work. A clear line between “we do it” and “they do it” can be seen less and less, and is certainly not generally applicable. At the opening of the congress, BVL managing director Thomas Wimmer emphasized, “Logistics and supply chain management have always had many interfaces to the areas of procurement, quality, production and purchasing.”

The only question is: why is it that right now, in the year 2020, the motto of the congress is “Break Down The Boundaries?” It is agreed that these have long since disappeared. Is it perhaps a belated tribute to the venue city of Leipzig, whose residents have proven themselves 30 years ago to be experts in breaking down borders?

Probably not! The creators of the motto had something completely different in mind. For Wimmer it is clear: “It refers to overarching topics that the future belongs to.” It is about digitization. Once again, this demands that carmakers and logisticians leave familiar terrain. To do this, all players have to overcome completely different barriers than there were before – or just break the boundaries down.

Prof. Dr.-Eng. Thomas Wimmer, CEO of BVL

“Logistics and supply chain management have always had many interfaces to the areas of procurement, quality, production and purchasing.”

That was one of the central topics of the forum: the digitally networked and digitally controlled interaction of production and logistics with the involvement of “external” process partners such as suppliers, logistics service providers, or consultants. It has a lot to do with transparency, with openness to new approaches and new business models.

The Congress provided plenty of examples of softening borders. One example is the warehouse, which accelerates or slows down deliveries to the assembly line in the event of fluctuations in demand. Or the automobile manufacturer, which no longer orders components from its supplier’s sales department as usual, but instead sends the call directly to the machine. In turn, they already know what needs to be done and are supplied with material accordingly. Digitization makes it possible. The more suppliers, automobile manufacturers and logisticians open up the digital barriers between their companies – or “break boundaries” according to the motto – the more efficiently the processes run.

Follow the path of the customer. Automotive logistics at the Eching location | logistik aktuell

Partnership automotive logistics. For almost 35 years, DB Schenker has been supplying the production for the BMW Group in Munich from the Eching logistics center.


Or another illustrative example: In the age of artificial intelligence and deep learning, a computer can independently determine whether a load carrier has to be cleaned after being emptied before it can go into circulation again. So far, this only works in the model, but it functions. The computer makes the decision just as wisely and accurately as intelligent adults.

Processes: humans design, automate and monitor

Nevertheless, the trend towards automation inevitably raises the question of where humans will go when their jobs are done by their digital colleagues. Consider all the transport systems in warehouses that can find their way autonomously, or platooning columns where just one person sits at the wheel and the trucks behind can be controlled remotely via a digital drawbar: that will be coming. For Erik Wirsing, Vice President Global Innovation Schenker AG, however, it is clear: “By 2030, autonomously driving trucks will not have fully become established – and certainly not in Germany.”

The subject of humans ran like a thread through the approximately two dozen lectures at the Automotive Logistics Forum. The answer was always the same: people and human abilities are still needed: perhaps no longer on the machine or in the vehicle, but likely as designers and supervisors of the processes. That will remain the decisive topic in automotive logistics.

“What role do people play in the age of #digitalization? The #Automobilelogistics forum dealt with these and other questions.“

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You will soon be able to read here a detailed interview with Erik Wirsing, Vice President Global Innovation Schenker AG, who spoke at the forum about additive manufacturing in logistics.

The industry is going through a fundamental digital transformation. Will people still be in demand as part of the value chain in the future?