THE TECH-DRIVEN LOGISTICS INDUSTRY
From hands-free inventory operations to carbon-free delivery, innovation takes center stage
When you think of sectors that deploy new technology as fast as research can generate it, aerospace, electronics and healthcare often leap to mind. Freight shipping and logistics? Not so much. But that’s rapidly changing. Today, the industry attracts both tech startups hoping to apply new concepts, and venture capital firms that specialize in high-tech finance. The major logistics players are also recognizing the need to get in on the act, either through strategic partnerships with these newcomers or their own in-house innovations.
So when you hear about workers wearing augmented reality glasses moving boxes around a DHL warehouse, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. In partnership with electronics company Ricoh, the logistics giant is running a pilot program in the Netherlands
to harness augmented reality (AR) via smart glasses. Its goal, according to Markus Kueckelhaus, DHL’s Vice President of Innovation and Trend Research, is to “enable intelligent hands-free operations.” In this “vision picking” scenario, smart glasses worn by workers scan barcodes during the gathering of products from inventory, and early results have yielded a 25 percent increase in efficiency
Behind all of this is a desire to drive further efficiency in the supply chain and achieve a strategic advantage in the marketplace. But the company also sees innovation as an important tool in addressing society’s increasing demands for sustainable business practices. “We recognize the rise of this new imperative within our markets,” Kueckelhaus explains.
“Social and environmental challenges can be turned into opportunities by creating fair, sustainable solutions that also generate business value.”
An example is a carbon-free package delivery program co-engineered by DHL to serve Germany’s largest cities. An electric-powered delivery van called the Streetscooter, manufactured by a whollyowned DHL subsidiary, got its trial run in Bonn three years ago. The program is on track to dispatch 141 electric vehicles in Bonn by the end of 2016, which will reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 500-plus tons a year.
A DHL publication, the Logistics Trend Radar, shines a spotlight on the new innovations that have helped trigger successful pilot programs both inside and outside of DHL and are likely to define the supply chains of the future of logistics. Now in its fourth year, the publication is both a clearinghouse of techno-solutions and a call for more enlightened thinking.
A decade has gone by since Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s seminal white paper on corporate social responsibility, "Strategy and Society," first appeared in
Harvard Business Review. But taking that paper’s subtitle, “The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility,” it’s easy to see why a global organization like DHL—active in over 220 countries and territories worldwide—is guided by such a lofty vision.
Seven years ago in its corporate strategy, DHL announced the goal of becoming the Logistics Company for the World. Around the same time, it launched an enterprisewide GoGreen initiative, which, as Kueckelhaus notes, became “operationally integrated into everything we do.” So while it sees itself as a vital force in international trade, the company’s aim is also to be a benchmark for responsible business, setting and adhering to a strict code of fair-and-responsible business.
On a day-to-day basis, the average person experiences a company like DHL in a brief, here-and-gone fashion. But through constant innovation and reinvention, which are a prerequisite for long-term success in today’s highly competitive logistics marketplace, the company is making a clear declaration that it is very much here to stay.