The corona crisis is hitting logistics companies with varying degrees of severity: while logistics companies in the food, retail and e-commerce sectors are having to increase their capacity, highly specialised companies such as automotive suppliers are coming under considerable pressure. ‘The focus within the industry is now on maintaining supply while avoiding serious economic consequences’, says Stefan Schröder, CEO at LNC LogisticNetwork Consultants and Chief Adviser at Logistics Alliance Germany.
As a public-private partnership project between the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and the German logistics industry, Logistics Alliance Germany markets German logistics abroad and serves as a central information and contact point, particularly for small and medium-sized companies from abroad looking for German logistics partners. It usually organises trade fair appearances, delegation trips, road shows, specialist conferences and regular meetings with the federal and state governments and the private logistics industry. However, with the corona pandemic, it is now being charged with other tasks.
Protection of supply chains and employees
Logistics Alliance Germany is currently working with the BMVI as part of the #LogistikHilft relief action aimed at countering the crisis. This includes first and foremost the securing of supply chains, protecting logistics employees and the transport of medical supplies. ‘Logistics is an essential component when it comes to the international supply of medical protective equipment. However, with scarce products such as protective masks in particular, open borders and free exchange of goods are no longer a matter of course and have become highly sensitive issues. We need to install new logistics chains and protect those colleagues who cannot work from home because they work in the warehouse, have to drive or deliver parcels to the front door’, says Schröder.
When logisticians talked about supply chain protection before the pandemic, the main concern was to ensure that loads were securely stowed and protected against theft. Protecting people against infection has meant that the supply chain has become much more complex. Drivers in particular must be protected at every point in the chain and, if possible, regularly tested for the virus. At the same time, mobile washing and aid containers have to be set up because many of the usual washing and resting facilities for drivers are currently not available.
Logistics is systemically relevant
But Schröder also sees a lot of positives in the situation. ‘Suddenly our industry is perceived as systemically relevant. Security of supply and disposal has always been of great importance, but until now has barely had a visible presence in our society. With the corona crisis, it is now becoming clear how important logistical processes and transport actually are. And I hope that this appreciation will stick in people’s minds afterwards’.
In addition, digitisation measures taken over the past few years are helping enormously. Collecting and evaluating data via tracking and tracing and thus managing the chain – this has always been one of the most important topics in logistics. Block chain technologies are also helping to build secure and traceable chains. Measures that have been tested under normal circumstances for many years can now be applied more quickly.
A giant digital leap
‘Normally, the industry is very much driven by regulations and requirement, which is important and as it should be, but it slows down digital development’, says Schröder. For example, in the area of heavy goods and large volume transport, a co-driver always had to ride in the lorry. During the corona pandemic, however, this is not really possible because the required safety distance between driver and passenger cannot be maintained. Digital driver assistance systems are now being used. ‘We have been discussing assistance systems for a long time’, says Schröder. ‘The solutions have long been on the market, but should first be tested in studies to see whether they are safe enough and can actually replace the co-driver. The pressure of the current situation has now led to the approval of such systems as a substitute measure. Now we can test them in real time and learn with them. It’s a giant leap forward for greater traffic safety’.
Field of application for the innovation
In recent years, solutions have also been developed in urban logistics, especially for the last mile, which are in greater demand than ever during the crisis. One of these is the use of micro depots, which are used as interim storage facilities or for contact-free deliveries. The challenge so far has mostly been to find suitable locations for the permanently installed or mobile micro depots. In the current situation, they can be set up much more easily and it is becoming clear what a nationwide supply of micro depots could look like and what effects they might have on traffic and emissions.
Stefan Schröder is well aware of the desperate situation his industry finds itself in, but he is optimistic: ‘The crisis will enable us to gain lots of experience and apply new ideas and possibilities. Logistics is the field of application for innovations and we can now develop perspectives for the future. Digitisation will help us to overcome the crisis – and the crisis in turn is giving a big boost to digitisation within the industry. This will make us strong for the future’.
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