Digitalisation has crept into logistics almost silently. The flow of information today is just as important as the flow of material, according to the “Guide to Digitalisation in Logistics” (Leitfaden Digitalisierung in der Logistik) published by the Logistik-Initiative Hamburg. Irrespective of whether orders arrive by email, electronic processing, online invoices and payment, electronic monitoring of containers – digitalisation has long since become everyday in logistics, but is still being developed in other sectors. Werner Gliem, spokesman for management at Logistik-Initiative Hamburg, commented: “Our sector is extremely heterogeneous and covers the self-employed forwarder with his own lorry as well as firms that are affected by digital change.”
Digitalisation is key issue among SMEs
Digital change means switching from paper to electronic invoicing in some small companies. But for others it can mean self-driving vehicles. Each firm must examine its own position and see how it can be adjusted. Gliem stressed: “Digitalisation is an important issue for SMEs as smaller forwarding companies must be future-orientated.” Thus, the guide attempts to make the many aspects and keywords of digital change tangible with practical examples from diverse companies.
From 3D printing to assistance systems in intra logistics
SLM Solutions GmbH outlines the opportunities offered by 3D print as well as the risks of losing business and turnover for specialised logistics service providers. The Hamburger Logistik Institut GmbH explains how various identifying technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), smart cards and barcodes can locate, identify, monitor and steer material flows as well as documenting and analysing the processes. Jungheinrich logistics systems have found that semi and fully automated assistance systems in intralogistics help avoid errors and optimise delivery times. Software-based warehouse navigation for narrow forklift trucks led to a 25 per cent increase in efficiency.
Networked data pool ideal
Autonomous driving will become more common in future “at least on point-to-point routes”, according to Gliem. But similar to autonomous driving, digital developments are still ongoing. The use of RFID technology, once hailed as promising, is stagnating, as putting such chips on e.g. yoghurt tubs is too costly. Gliem noted: “Many things such as pallets or packing levels in air freight are working, but not comprehensively.” The systems used by freight forwarders at sea differ from those in ports, which in turn differ from those used on land. “A networked data pool would help. Then the forwarder could tell: ‘My container is no. 17 on the left and I can collect it at exactly 1.12 pm.’ That would be ideal.“
Transparent exchange of data at HHLA
The Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) has led the way in port logistics for many years. Heinrich Goller, Director of Operations at HHLA, said: “The Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) has set industrial standards for over 12 years and is still a state-of-the-art facility. Dynamic development processes still occur in this ultra modern facility that make work more efficient and increase productivity.“ But terminals that are not greenfield projects are still adjusting to digital processes. He added: “For us the exchange of data with shipping companies and EDI’s partners on setting up and using joint platforms for automatic data processing are important, ongoing issues. A transparent exchange of data would increase efficiency across all means transport modes (ship, lorries, train).“
Sharing data is crucial
Yet a transparent exchange of data is not possible without digitalisation. However, this requires a willingness to share data and to rethink processes, said Goller. “An interface for truck dispatch, for instance, has been developed to exchange data. Next year, this interface will allow us to arrange slots with truckers for bringing and collecting containers. All those involved will benefit from far more reliable information and the workload will be more evenly spread across the facilities.”