How is the German economy progressing towards Logistics 4.0?

Heidelberg - 25.9.2018

The interplay of humans and technology was the key topic of the event “Logistics 4.0 – focusing on the client”, held at io-consultants in Heidelberg on 25 September 2018. Professor Dr. Julia Christine Bendul, Chair of Management for Industry 4.0 at RWTH Aachen University, moderated a panel of eight experts from various business and science sectors who provided insights into current areas of application and solutions relating to Logistics 4.0. More than 100 participants joined the discussion with the speakers on how to achieve the best possible performance of logistics processes in their respective fields.

Still early days for Logistics 4.0

In her introduction, Professor Bendul said the media often suggests that Germany is only a small step away from the successful implementation of Logistics 4.0. While this digital transformation is, indeed, an issue for all the companies participating in the event, actual realisation is still in its infancy. Many of the companies are introducing automated warehouse concepts and plan to use robots in their logistics processes in the near future; some are already conducting pilot projects.

Optimal interplay of technology and humans is crucial

As regards all the trends and possibilities of digitisation, everyone at the event agreed that it is not only about technology, but much more about the optimal interplay with people. The experiences of the speakers made it clear how important it is to actively involve employees in the respective change processes at an early stage – and that transparency and safety in the supply chain are becoming increasingly important.

The first speaker, Marco Rebohm, Head of Logistics at Gebr. Heinemann SE & Co. KG, confirmed this in his presentation on supply chain management in the travel retail market. Process ownership and innovation are key factors for Gebr. Heinemann to maintain a leading position in the international travel market. People, machines and data must work together. At Oslo airport, the company introduced the world’s first driverless transport system, Secured Automated Guided Vehicles (SAGV). Gebr. Heinemann is also looking into pick-by-vision technologies and corresponding optimisations using MTM.

Robots are on the rise

Digitisation is inevitable at all HUGO BOSS points of sales too, confirmed Stefan Huber, Head of Logistics DC Finished Goods at HUGO BOSS AG. His presentation about the company’s new distribution centre with its highly efficient intralogistics and innovative shuttle warehouse showed this very clearly. Order picking robots for specific product segments are also an option for the near future, Huber said, posing new challenges, particularly for product packaging, and thus requiring comprehensive planning and testing.

Christian Jasper, Head of Strategy & Planning at BMW AG, showed the participants how digitisation and Logistics 4.0 provide the basis for customer orientation and flexibility. Although the company’s “ZTA 2030” project has started out with manual logistics processes only, the plans also include enough scope for digitisation and possible collaborative robotics in future. Companies need to be flexible, Jasper asserted. Passively standing by is not an option; active participation in development is essential. To this purpose, BMW also regularly engages in joint developments with start-ups, thus preparing for anticipated innovations.

Large logistics projects in the confectionery and beverage industries

Stefan Sorce, Head of International Logistics at HARIBO GmbH & Co. KG, emphasized the importance of employee involvement in new logistics projects, which is a vital aspect of HARIBO’s ongoing “Project of the Century”: the construction of its new company headquarters and logistics centre in Grafschaft, with a daily handling capacity of 100 million gummi bears and a storage facility of 100,000 pallets.
Ferrero, too, sees its staff as a key success factor, stated Dietmar Lenk, Senior Manager at Ferrero OHG mbH. The new multifunctional warehouse for Ferrero Germany in Stadtallendorf, built to meet the challenges of the international market, was completed with the company's own personnel and with external partners.

Harald Rohatsch, Director of Logistics at Capri-Sun GmbH, presented the company’s fully automated matrix high-bay warehouse in Eppelheim, near Heidelberg. This state-of-the-art facility serves as the hub for the company’s entire logistics processes. Designed as a 3D matrix solution, it can store up to 250 pallets and retrieve up to 475 pallets per hour.

New technology is no substitute for human beings

In his presentation “Technology, people and processes – challenges of a new logistics concept”, Markus Irmler, CEO of Symbiolog GmbH, portrayed the company’s newbuild project in Burgbernheim, which involved the introduction of entirely new technology and software. One element is the hand-held scanners, designed for simple and intuitive smartphone-like use so that even the many newly recruited employees could familiarise themselves with the logistics processes within a very short time.

To close, Professor Dr. Johannes Fottner, who teaches technical logistics at TU Munich, summed up that the aim of all technical innovations should not be to replace people, but to optimise processes using technology and methods in the best possible way. Similar and recurring processes are highly suitable for robots and machines, for instance. But when it comes to complex and parallel processes, humans – due to their flexibility – will remain more valuable than machines.

“Time and again, we see in our projects how current an issue Logistics 4.0 is, and how important the role it plays in supporting our clients and making their businesses future-proof. This is what we wanted to convey today, and we are delighted by the consistent positive feedback on the lectures and the format of our event,” said Adrian Siegler, member of the management board and partner at io-consultants.

Virtual reality as an integral new part of planning
During the breaks, the participants had the opportunity to test the latest pick-by-vision and pick-by-voice solutions by io-consultants’ partner companies Picavi and topsystem, for live encounters with digitisation options. io-consultants also showed how Virtual Reality can be used to optimise planning; for instance, by using virtual representations of warehouse and production structures to identify and correct weak points already during the planning stages.

io-consultants plans a further repeat of this event again next year.

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