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?

Automation has already been developed to the furthest extent in intralogistics. Robots automatically collect orders from shelves in huge warehouses, put them in boxes and prepare them for dispatch. Then comes the part that is not automated yet. Packages arrive late, damaged, or not at all. Automation can often improve weak points when it comes to quality and reliability. This is one motivation for this megatrend, which is changing more than just logistics.

It is often also a lack of qualified personnel that forces companies to automate processes. This can result in improved working conditions for workers. “Younger colleagues in particular find working in remote control attractive,” says iSAM boss Bernd Mann in an interview. “They would rather work in an air-conditioned office with a coffee machine nearby than climb all over a crane in all kinds of weather and spend their entire shift alone.”

HHLA subsidiary iSAM is a specialist in particularly difficult cases of automation, and the Hamburg terminal Hansaport is their masterpiece. Enormous amounts of ore and coal are handled there – more than ten percent of the total handling volume at the Port of Hamburg. Click here to read how this works using only a couple of employees.

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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