Automation in the logistics industry

Severe skills shortages, improvement of safety and attractiveness of positions, reduction of operating costs – lots of things have sped up the process of automation in the logistics industry. HHLA has already automated large parts of its container terminals and is now looking at new areas of interest, like autonomous vehicles and hyperloop technology. But what exactly will be automated and what are the consequences for people who have to interact with machines?

Today, digitalisation also includes the development of new business models based on huge data platforms. These also prevail in logistics for the analysis and handling of a variety of processes. HHLA, for example, has developed the platform modility for booking intermodal transportation. Why? Over 80 percent of daily consumer goods are currently transported on the road. And only 2.5 percent by intermodal transport! In a HHLA Talk, CEO Hendrik-Emmanuel Eichentopf explains how modility wants to change this.

The goal is more efficient and more sustainable transport. And the next step on this path is to build cross-system data networks. Many different modes of transport, production plants and warehouses involved in logistics can use them to communicate efficiently. Transportation can be more sustainable, faster and more unobstructed with digital help, but only if stakeholders are prepared to share their data with each other. The Port of Hamburg is a good example of this, where the import message platform ensures better collaboration.

Networked data can also be used in the Internet of Things. This means individual machines, or even individual goods, from cars to fridges, could communicate independently via the internet. The goal is the increasing self-management of these “things”. A lot of research and regulation must be done before these carriers can move and manage themselves autonomously. The focus is currently on better information supply with the help of many sensors. Smart containers are one important use case, as shown in this example.

Human and machine: Interacting, not competing

Their sheer size makes seaports a great option for automation. What are the reasons for and the limits of this process?

Read the article

Work smarter, not harder

Automation has been restructuring work at the port for a long time. Right now, processes can increasingly be managed from home. This means the long and not environmentally-friendly trips to the port can be avoided. In the future, humans will probably act more as the creative solution finders to respond to the ever-increasing challenges within the logistics chain.

This process of change is not new. Massive container ships have replaced the many smaller cargo carriers that were unloaded over a long period of time using extremely strenuous and dangerous manual labour. What we call automation today was once called industrialisation.

Read more here about port work in transition

Rise of the machines

The next step at the highly automated port terminal is to integrate self-driving trucks. They have already undergone successful testing and can be introduced in Hamburg as soon as the regulatory basis has been created. In the TruckPilot project, trucks found their way across the terminal, parked themselves, were loaded with a container and drove back to the exit all without a driver.

Till Schlumberger from HHLA and Sebastian Völl from project partner MAN talk about what they learned in an in-depth interview about autonomous driving.

Disruption comes with new transport opportunities

Modern logistics will do more than just automate existing processes. There are no limits to this development, and some transformations can be disruptions. Hyperloop technology, which HHLA wants to use for a port project, has what it takes to make this happen. The goal is to transport containers through pipes using magnetic levitation. The automated transport solution requires very little electrical energy and can even be climate-positive by using solar energy to travel on the hyperloop lines with zero emissions.

This all begs the question, how will the world of logistics look in the future? Dr. Carlos Jahn addresses these future topics in HHLA Talk. He heads the Institute of Maritime Logistics at Hamburg University of Technology as well as the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services in Hamburg-Harburg. Big inventions will not necessarily change global supply chains, says Jahn.

Read and listen here about how the logistics industry can find a path to more synchronicity, intelligent decisions and climate-friendly transportation.

Further megatrends and fields of action at HHLA

All information on the current trends automation, artificial intelligence, digitalized supply chains, drones and hydrogen as well as HHLA's projects.

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