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Innovation: Is logistics the new technology frontier?

Technology has completely transformed many industries. Now, as innovators turn increasingly to logistics, they are finding lots of opportunities for innovation along the supply chain. Let’s take a closer look.

We’re ready for a new tech revolution in logistics

We can’t stress enough how significant the digital transformation is for logistics and supply chains in today’s connected world. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. Explore our tech and innovation stories right here on DHL Delivered and look at all the logistics trends we’re following, and you’ll see what we mean.

Global trade is key to economic prosperity, with the reliable delivery of goods being a top priority. But protecting the planet also hinges on making our industry greener. Innovative logistics and supply chains backed by new technology can deliver on both counts.

Digital technology and innovation are already transforming logistics, but our industry remains full of untapped potential. That’s because the companies that develop technology often fail to recognize how their innovations could unpack some of the biggest supply chain problems. They overlook the logistics industry as a potential market.

So how can we raise awareness and grab the attention of more creative minds? The answer is by continuing to talk about opportunities for innovation in logistics and inviting the best and the brightest to explore the current challenges we face. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here.

Innovation in logistics is a box full of opportunity

One could argue that the history of supply chains is a history of innovation. For centuries, people have been fascinated with improving how to best connect goods and people in one place with goods and people in another.

It sounds cliché, but innovation in logistics really is all about thinking outside the box – keeping an open mind and trying new things. And there’s so much to think about right now. Tech companies have a wide range of opportunities.

For example, we need new digital solutions and fresh ideas to make supply chains work better and more efficiently – to be more eco-friendly, ensure health and safety, and manage, store, and transport things smarter. We see tons of ways the right solutions could seriously change how logistics works and solve pressing problems. Automation, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality – the list goes on and on.

Innovation in logistics: two examples

Automated loading and unloading

It can take one to two hours to unload a 40-foot container. Just think of how many times one package or pallet is taken on and off a vehicle as it makes its way through the supply chain. The hours add up quickly, as do the risks, such as product damage or people’s safety. What’s more, the contents and handling requirements vary greatly.

Robots are slowly taking over tasks like these across supply chains, including mobile robots for order picking and stationary robots for sorting and stacking. But the current solutions don’t answer all of our questions.

What questions are we asking about loading and unloading? Find out here.

New truck driver safety technologies

Many people think autonomous trucks are the ultimate solution to driver safety. So do we. But widespread use is still years away. We want to make truck driving safer now. Across the world’s largest economies, it is one of the most perilous professions. Truck drivers spend hours at the wheel every day, navigating never-ending highways and crowded urban streets while contending with all types of weather. Driver training makes a huge difference, but how can we leverage new technologies to improve the quality of life on the road?

Many tech companies don’t see the market potential here, which has grown in our post-pandemic world: recruiting new drivers today is a challenge, which makes creating a safe working environment a high priority in the logistics industry. It makes the job more attractive.

How can new technologies improve driver health, detect fatigue, or improve visibility? Let’s find a solution together!

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Our Warehouse of Innovation

Imagine stepping into a warehouse, but instead of shelves, pallets, and crates, you find clusters of workstations humming with activity. Supply chain engineers and software programmers draw diagrams on a whiteboard, brainstorming ideas and reimagining processes. Prototypes line the tables, showcasing the tangible results of unconventional thinking. The air is charged with the spirit of experimentation and the excitement of the next breakthrough.

This space exists – at our DHL Innovation Centers around the world. Here’s just one example of what can happen there:

Bringing RFID back – an Innovation Center success story

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have existed for decades, but many companies that experimented with the technology in the past found that the cost was too high. Recent price drops have changed that, and customers are beginning to take another look at how RFID can improve efficiency in supply chain management.

Case in point: Labor shortages and high turnover rates have disrupted warehouse operations in recent years. This can significantly impact efficiency, especially at facilities requiring heavy picking activity. The learning curve for new hires is often quite steep. Even the most talented recruit can make mistakes, such as putting a pallet in the wrong place. And each mistake costs time. At one customer facility, for example, an outbound truck might be put on hold for 30 to 40 minutes during the search for a misplaced pallet. Sometimes pallets must be re-picked, which can take up to 90 minutes.

RFID is part of the IoT in logistics we showcase at our Innovation Centers. A customer visit to our center in Chicago gave birth to an idea: Is it economically feasible to equip a warehouse full of pallets with RFID tags to track their location and be able to find them quickly? The question became a pilot project, and the results spoke for themselves: Time spent looking for lost pallets dropped by 77%. The warehouse staff had more time for other work, and the company saved money. The tags were also used to compare records with physical stocks for cycle counts. That process had generally taken several hours and was shortened to an hour or less.

We’re currently exploring more ways to leverage tracking technology.

Innovation in logistics: We need more

Our customers are increasingly looking to us to help them navigate the new and fast-evolving technological landscape. In the simplest terms, we must find smarter ways to move, manage, and store their things.

That’s why we set up our Innovation Centers around the world, where we explore new technologies and collaborate directly with customers, partners, and innovative thinkers. We want to turn research into real-world results.

We invite you to visit us on site, but you don’t have to travel to Chicago, Cologne, Singapore, or Dubai to learn what our industry needs. You can take a virtual trip to our Warehouse of Innovation. Or explore our Innovation page.

Don’t miss out on this new innovation frontier. After hundreds of workshops with our largest customers and our operations teams, we have the insights into what logistics needs. And we’d be happy to share them with you.

Why not logistics?

Are you a tech company looking for new opportunities? Find out what new technology and innovative ideas the logistics industry needs and come innovate with us!

Published: November 2023

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