Logistics trends in 2022: from digitalisation to sustainability

Stefan Seufert, CTO/Vorstand EIKONA AG
Drones fly through a central warehouse loaded with packages

The digitalisation of logistics is building steam in 2022 with global challenges, trends, and technological developments. Service providers are securing global supply chains, compensating for the skilled labour shortage and protecting the climate more across the entire economy. And they are using automation and digitalisation to do it. In the process, they are venturing into new technological domains.

Autonomous trucks, smart glasses, and cargo drones: three examples that show how far logistics has come in automation and digitalisation. These are important technologies that the business sector needs in order to successfully meet the challenges of the future. A skilled worker shortage, limited infrastructure, and climate change have caused a shift in thinking, and logistics professionals are looking for new, creative solutions to these challenges. They are employing state-of-the-art technologies that enable a digital supply chain and new business models:

  • Self-learning logistics platforms
  • (Humanoid) autonomous robots
  • Self-driving trucks, vans, trains, and ships
  • Automated container terminals and warehouses

These sophisticated approaches bridge the gap between today's challenges and tomorrow's goals in logistics.


Digitalisation: computing power and software replace vehicles and cargo handling facilities

The most important innovations in process optimisation come from digitalisation. The shared economy is increasingly gaining ground. Many companies share valuable resources that they could not afford on their own, largely using cloud systems. Logistics platforms in particular manage to pool transports and reduce the number of goods movements. For example, e-commerce is getting better at presenting its products online, thereby preventing mistaken purchases and unnecessary returns. Support technologies such as pick-by-vision and smart glasses also improve picking and avoid process errors. Managers and line workers are now much more familiar with digital technologies in these areas than they were just a few years ago. As interfaces between end customers and logistics networks, platforms also enable new business models such as automatic dispatching without cargo handling, replacing physical processes with smart software and powerful computers.


Sustainability and green logistics: new approaches and alternative drives

The logistics industry in Germany is making great efforts to limit the impact of climate change on society and the environment. It aims to avoid delivery traffic or at least make it more climate friendly with a new approach to last-mile delivery. Up to 40 percent of logistics service providers have reported in studies that they are increasingly using logistics sites close to cities or city centres in order to ensure zero-emission delivery. In addition, freight forwarders and transport companies are modernising their fleets and increasingly using alternative drive systems such as electric motors. This change is expected to cut fuel consumption 30 percent by 2030 compared to the 2019 baseline. Airlines are using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), produced using green electricity, water and CO2 that has already been emitted. This technology can already enable carbon-neutral flying.


Autonomous driving: addressing the skilled worker shortage

While the truck driver shortage is already taking on growth-limiting proportions for industry and commerce, vehicle manufacturers, start-ups, and logistics service providers are working on autonomous transport vehicles. Before long, these vehicles are expected to be able to navigate long-distance traffic on their own and thus also reduce road congestion with additional nighttime trips. Autonomous systems are also already being tested for deliveries, including cargo drones for international transports with ranges of 2,500 kilometres and a payload of 350 kilograms. Even self-driving trains and barges calling at automated container terminals are about to enter regular service, too.


Automation: accelerate intralogistics

Intralogistics has made particularly good automation progress. More and more autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are joining the ranks of large fully automated logistics facilities. They are now equipped with low-cost, extremely powerful control systems and can move autonomously in logistics facilities with 3D optics and sensors. In these facilities, they optimise the material flow using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) methods. They can also be controlled and coordinated in an integrated fashion, accelerate picking and increase process quality. They are also available around the clock, even during peak seasons, holidays and the Christmas season. They can thus easily compensate for any increase in staffing requirements. As individual mobile units, they reduce investment costs and quickly generate a full return on investment (ROI). Even in areas where machines cannot yet perform tasks independently, technologies such as exoskeletons are expected to help people with heavy-duty work and reduce the amount of force required in logistics processes by up to 40 percent.

Conclusion

Logistics 2022: how a business sector reinvents itself

Many cutting-edge solutions are already being tested in logistics in 2022 or are at least beyond the conceptual design stage. Automation and digitalisation are at the heart of technological innovation. The more and sooner information about planned goods movements is available, the easier it will be to optimise transports for individual businesses and the entire economy. AI is already learning from the present for the future.


Stefan Seufert
Stefan Seufert
CTO

As a design guru, the software developer delves into logistics service providers' requirements like no other. He is passionate about exchanging information securely and efficiently and thus speeding up the physical logistics process.


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