Freight tetris is not as fun as the term may suggest. One of the special challenges facing transport logistics is to arrange different pieces of freight on pallets as space-savingly and efficiently as possible. Automated loading of a special platform outside the truck, which is currently being tested for the EU project Clusters 2.0, could help solve this problem.
“The modular transport units that we developed to optimise the loading of different sizes and shapes of cargo onto pallets were a good starting point,” says Marcel Huschebeck of PTV, who is coordinating the project. “Now we are focussing on innovative reloading technology, the so-called New Modular Loading Unit Platform (NMLU). This special base has the size of euro pallets. The packages are loaded together outside the truck onto the platform and then transported on a conveyor belt onto the truck’s roller bed. It’s a fully automated process“, explains Huschebeck.
In late January, the researchers tested the new platform at Jan de Rijk Logistics in the Netherlands and DHL and WFS World Flight Services in Brussels. DHL delivers freight to WFS, where it is then loaded ‘ready to fly’, which means it can be directly loaded onto the aircraft. “We tested it during normal operation, made brake tests and checked how it works in the high-bay warehouse. And of course also how long it takes to build a pallet and much more. The results have been promising,” says Huschebeck. “The trailers usually spend between 1 and 2 hours for loading and unloading at the ramp. Since the NMLU precisely matches the width dimensions of a trailer and offers a so-called footprint (i.e. storage positions) for 5-euro pallets, a lot of inhomogeneous, palletized consignments can be packed and stacked faster and more efficiently. Fully loaded and load-secured NMLUs can be loaded onto the truck in minutes, which considerably reduces the service time per truck and saves valuable time for the driver. In the following months, the New Modular Loading Unit Platform will be tested, optimised and validated by other project partners.
The EU project Clusters 2.0, coordinated by PTV, aims to enable actors to cooperate, achieve visibility, efficiency and sustainability in their freight processes and improve their entire supply chain. It focuses on the creation of a multimodal logistics network consisting of several logistics hubs and clusters. The aim is to improve the deployment, performance and coordination of terminals and hubs at cluster level. In addition, solutions are being developed that help reduce operational handling costs. Prototypes for new modular loading units (NMLU) were created for this purpose. Terminal management systems are also being developed to increase terminal management capacity and reduce congestion. These solutions are improved and validated in Living Labs.