IPIC 2017 Physical Internet in Research and Practice

Marcel Huschebeck, Manager Logistics Research at PTV, Dr. Benoit Montreuil, Chair and Professor at Georgia Tech, Coca-Cola Material Handling & Distribution Center, Atlanta, GA, and inventor of the Physical Internet und Dr. Michael Nutto, Solution Director PTV xServer (f.l.t.r.) at IPIC 2017.

Marcel Huschebeck, Dr. Benoit Montreuil, Chair and Professor at Georgia Tech, Coca-Cola Material Handling & Distribution Center, Atlanta, GA, and inventor of the Physical Internet and Dr. Michael Nutto, Solution Director PTV xServer (f.l.t.r.) at IPIC 2017.

The 4th International Physical Internet Conference took place at LogistikWerkstatt Graz in early July (please also read our press release). Sending goods through open channels as easily as information via the internet – that is the vision of the Physical Internet (PI). Here the principle of the exchange of standardized data packets is applied to material flows. The Physical Internet combines trends such as digitization, automation and shared economy to create a comprehensive logistics concept that aims at making transport logistics more efficient, flexible and environmentally friendly. In our interview, Marcel Huschebeck, Manager Logistics Research at PTV Group provides a brief report on the conference.

Compass: The theme of the conference was “Science meets Industry” – so were there many industry representatives that could already gain some practical experience on their way towards the Physical Internet?

Marcel Huschebeck: Oh, yes – definitely. I found it particularly interesting to see that the principle of standardized boxes – as developed and tested within the scope of the EU project MODULUSHCA coordinated by PTV – are used in real-life applications. The standardization organization GS1 Germany recently introduced special standardized containers for the supply of goods. In his opening speech, Ruediger Hagedorn of the Consumer Goods Forum highlighted the benefits of the modularization of supplies. They are the basis for an integrated logistics system on the international scene. In a later session, Maximo Martinez Avila, Procter & Gamble in Belgium, also talked about this aspect and first implementations in Belgium where these types of boxes are being tested by Delhaize for a specific range of products.

‘Hyperconnected distribution’ was another exciting topic. Here the focus lies on the potential of cooperative transportation covering the aspects of storage and transport. Simulations reveal cost savings of 33% compared to non-cooperative approaches. First best practice examples provided by FLEXE in the United States or CRC Services in France demonstrate that this is quite plausible. These ‘hyperconnected distributions’ could be easily planned with our transport planning software PTV Smartour.

The willingness of the logistics provider to share their distribution networks was also thoroughly discussed by the logistics service providers FM Logistics and Schenker at this year’s IPIC. But despite these first positive results, it will be a huge challenge to improve transport network efficiency through network sharing and cooperation. The subsequent discussion made clear that a ‘neutral’ manager will play a major role in the future.

Compass: Which topic was of particular interest to the conference attendees?

Marcel Huschebeck: Urban logistics was certainly one of the major issues. This is where the Physical Internet could prove to be very useful – once it has become reality. It offers plenty of benefits: from new opportunities opened up through cooperation to the combination of incoming and outgoing supplies and last mile delivery. We also deal with these aspects in our projects CLUSTERS 2.0 and AEOLIX. As part of the AELOX project, we presented a concept for ‘smart xServers’, which allows dispatchers to plan the last mile more precisely thanks to specific information on the delivery address. To this end, PTV xLocate would have to be fed with additional information, such as “the mail address is not the delivery address, please deliver the goods to “x” road/street between 2.00 and 6.00 pm.” These data records, that can also be maintained by a community, provide valuable additional information for transport planning and execution.

Moreover, we had the opportunity to run a workshop on CLUSTERS 2.0 with a special focus on the interface between interurban and urban transport. We want to make a fresh start in order to combine the flow of goods more effectively through cooperation. This is where the synchromodal initiative CargoStream comes in. This platform helps shippers and transport companies exchange their data in order to allocate shipments to means of transport in a demand-oriented manner. From our research perspective, we would like to link our PTV xServer cloud services and our xIntermodal planning services to this platform to optimize these processes under real-life conditions.

Compass: When do you expect the Physical Internet to become reality?

Marcel Huschebeck: Some time ago, 2050 was mentioned as a potential date. However, in the meantime, the technology has developed to such an extent that it would be possible to turn this vision into reality earlier than expected. And I think it makes more sense to work towards specific milestones. Like I said, technologies for transhipment, storage, handling, robotics and automation are available – now logistics needs to follow.