One of the topics currently dominating the agenda of the European Freight and Logistics Leaders’ Forum (F&L) – an international organisation providing members with the opportunity to debate and share best practice in the international supply chain industry – is smart logistics, which involves the introduction of new technology and practices to enhance efficiency, improve safety and reduce environmental impact.
According to Philip Evans, Secretary General of F&L, there’s quite a lot of interest in terms of the potential of smart technologies, but there is also a certain amount of reticence because it isn’t clear how quickly they will become commercially viable.
F&L sees technology all the way through and has an important role as a platform for discussions about shaping the future of logistics and the movement of goods in an international environment, fostering transition towards smarter practices which enhance efficiency across the logistics network. On the one hand, the organisation is concerned with topics such as how vehicle technology could change or advance automation. On the other hand, there is also a discussion about how technology is used in retail businesses and how this could make the supply chain more efficient, and the pressures which this could put on the supply chain.
Since logistics means crossing borders, there are challenges in terms of ensuring that new technologies are interoperable. There is diversity of opinion in terms of whether this should happen at European level versus at individual state level. A Europe-wide, reliable and consistent network would be preferable; however, that is difficult to achieve, as different governments have slightly different views and different regulatory requirements. As a result, an operator moving across Europe simply won’t get absolute consistency, with both financial and time cost implications, and this will be even further complicated when Brexit happens.
When it comes to technology, most stakeholders have the view that it will provide benefits: advancement (and ultimately replacement) of driver capabilities, substitution of paperwork for regulations, improvement of health and safety, etc. Technology would also help with the issue of planning for better use of existing load capacity and it could potentially provide a significant uplift in efficiencies. However, experts are uncertain of the timeline for that, owing to both economic viability and the concerns about consistency across Europe.
F&L is dealing with the problem of bottlenecks in the European logistics system, issues around displacement and the ability to find alternative routes when complications arise, an ageing driver population, the difficulty on the timeline of investment in technology, lack of interoperability and differing regulations across different countries, pressures in relation to price versus the efficiencies and values of logistics operators, etc. The other big theme that F&L is discussing is the extent to which different stakeholders in the supply chain can be more open to understanding what other members of the network require.