Identifying the potential of logistics technology
By Ella Copeland
Martin Wegner is the man with a plan. The Vice President of Solutions and Innovation at DHL, he is responsible for the development of a range of futuristic projects at DHL’s state-of-the-art Innovation Centre, he spends his time focusing on the potential of logistics technologies, working on sci-fi gadgets,, revolutionary concepts and challenging new business models.
As the person in the know when it comes to future logistics, Wegner has provided a unique insight into two of the most influential devices on the market; RFID, the technology of now, which will impact the industry in the immediate future, and 3D printing, which is expected to revolutionise the supply chain over the next decade.
Following a range of projects and investment into RFID solutions, DHL has been working with a number of retailers and warehousing companies to ensure that RFID will feature increasingly in the retail and warehousing industry in order to promote the merits of RFID when it comes to transparency and inventory efficiency.
In the past five years, DHL have worked with a range of major companies such as METRO Cash & Carry in France and Sony Electronics to demonstrate the efficiency and capabilities of RFID for textiles, foods, beverages and electronic products.
Following this research, the company is working with a number of major retailers to increase RFID uptake from next year, as they recognise the benefits of control in their supply chain, in addition to theft-reducing and anti-counterfeit capabilities as Martin Wegner, Vice President, Solutions and Innovation at DHL explained.
“RFID is a technology with an abundance of opportunities in a number of processes. There might be more applications for consumers in the near future using RFID as basis, e.g. anti-counterfeit, e-commerce and after-sales tools combined with easy-to-use mobile devices.”
However, it is important to think of the system as complementary, according to Wegner. In order to take the system further, he believes that RFID should not be considered to be a barcode replacement.
“We should stop thinking about replacing the barcode by an RFID tag without changing the setup of processes. This will probably never pay off. We need to think about changing the processes in a way that follows the customers’ need for more detailed information where it is the case. But we should push these changes wherever RFID (and no other technology) helps to make a process more profitable,” he explained.
With an RFID device already on the market, DHL is playing a huge part in pushing forwards this technology as a solution for inventory management and supply chain standardisation. However, it is important first to develop a set of standards; something which DHL is working closely with the standards implementation firm, GS1, to achieve.
With over 350 patents for products being developed at its innovation centre, the team at DHL believe we are far from utilizing the full potential of RFID applications which are able to interact with other devices, allowing active communications between goods and logistics providers.
One further technology at the centre of DHL’s innovation programme is 3D printing, which is set to revolutionise the way the supply chain operates, reducing the need for mass-produced manufacturing, transportation and storage. Potentially posing a threat to numerous businesses in the Supply Chain Sector, DHL is researching and developing ways to incorporate this new device into its service offering.
“It is inevitable that 3D printing will have an impact on global supply chains. At the moment, the technology and business applications are not mature enough yet,” explained Wegner.
“In certain industry sectors we will see a shift from central to decentralised production, from intercontinental shipping to more regional and domestic distribution. With our network of research partners and manufacturers, we have managed to get a comprehensive overview of where 3D printing is today and this will enable us to keep track of any new developments which open up new opportunities for our business,” he continued.
Driven by consumers to fulfil the need for more individualised consumer products, 3D printing offers a wide range of new opportunities which the industry will need to catch up with. According to Wegner, 3D printing shops for consumers or virtual warehouses to print spare parts on demand are visions that one day will become reality.
Developing the service offering
With an ever-increasing investment in complementary technologies, DHL are investing more and more into the development of value-added solutions for their customers to ensure they remain at the cutting edge of developments. According to Wegner, this focus is taking an increasingly important role in DHL’s global operations, where it will remains for years to come.
“Our business has always been a complementary one. Nowadays, being a logistics provider means more than just transporting goods and items. It’s more about covering and improving the entire supply chains of our customers, the transportation of data, security aspects, offering value added services such as assembling goods and exploring new technologies. The world has become faster and therefore logistics had to become faster and more complex,” he concluded.