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DB Schenker forges ahead with digitalizing logistics services

At the Enterprise Lab for Logistics and Digitalization, experts from DB Schenker and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML are working on the solutions of tomorrow

Markus Sontheimer, CIO and Chief Digitalization Officer at Schenker AG, views the development of the DB Schenker Enterprise Lab for Logistics and Digitalization as a great success since it opened in January 2015. While journalists were touring the facility, he presented them with the vision of the future of logistics that is currently taking shape in Dortmund as part of a partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML.

Researchers from DB Schenker, the Fraunhofer IML, and TU Dortmund University study the potential offered by digital innovations and trends, and they work on taking this potential to the next level. Using new tools, IT, prototypes, and 3D printers, their goal is to design the logistics system of the future. Their research targets also include developing digital business models and optimizing warehouse management processes by means of new software.

“This collaborative effort sees us accelerating the digitalization of logistics processes,” says Markus Sontheimer. “In this, the era of Industry 4.0, DB Schenker understands the importance of digitalization and the opportunities that it offers. We are collectively working on innovative solutions that prepare us to face the competition of the future.”

“In addition to our usual collaborative work within individual research projects, working as part of an Enterprise Lab can make research much faster and efficient,” says Professor Boris Otto, Director of Information Management & Engineering at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML. “The underlying principle is to work together to develop prototypes in innovative fields in order to gather experience applying new digital technologies and business models within a very short time frame. Solutions that have proven to be effective at the prototype phase can then quickly be transferred to other fields of application.”

Pictures as well as a film of the DB Schenker Enterprise Lab are available at:

Examples of Logistics 4.0 at Dortmund's Enterprise Lab for Logistics and Digitalization

3D printing, augmented reality, internet of things – all just hype?

“An important question which DB Schenker tried to answer through a thorough and extensive research in the Lab. Which technologies we can leverage and get a realistic benefit today, and on which ones we need to wait for further developments? With which processes and business models would they fit the best and create the maximum value for our customers and us? Some questions we can answer already, but the development in these areas has just picked up speed. For example, we developed concepts on how we can use 3D printing in the supply chain.

In the future, as logistics specialists, we will need to carefully consider which product parts we still need to store in our logistics centers for customers and which ones we will be able to produce ourselves using our printing service. Apropos, it now pays off to transport 3D printers and their consumables to Europe from overseas.” (M. Sontheimer)

Optimization at the push of a button
“How can you load as much material onto as few trucks as possible? This puzzle takes a lot of time to work out. However, the Lab has come up with a software tool that generates a solution at the touch of a button, while still letting dispatchers use their own judgment and make further improvements. Software and the desire to experiment play off each other, and better capacity utilization is the result, all in less time.” (M. Sontheimer)

Example: innovative warehouse software

“Together with the Fraunhofer IML, we recently developed a prototype for software at the Dortmund Lab that can predict when deliveries of goods to logistics warehouses will be delayed. The software can also automatically suggest how to prevent bottlenecks, for example by adjusting the shift schedules of warehouse employees. The prototype development process included supplying a database with information such as traffic data, holiday and vacation schedules, and information about stocks as well as successfully testing the database. As a result, we will be able to inform customers of discrepancies more quickly and minimize the impact by reacting swiftly. Beginning in the fall, we plan to roll out the pilot software for use in scheduled operations and implement it as quickly as possible at select contract logistics warehouses.” (M. Sontheimer)

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