24 February 2014

Efficient Flows of Goods:
The World Wide Web as a Model for Logistics

Graz University of Technology is a leading player in the international MODULUSHCA project in the “physical internet” initiative

A logistics system modelled on the World Wide Web: the vision of this so-called “physical internet” is to send real goods around the globe instead of packets of digital data, in standardised modular container systems, using shared means of transport and over open networks. In the first physical contribution to the physical internet – the MODULUSCHCA project – Graz University of Technology is playing a leading role in the development of modular transport boxes. The first prototype from the 3D printer is ready and will now be subject to comprehensive load and performance tests.

The aim of the international initiative “Physical Internet” is to make the flow of goods more efficient, more flexible and more sustainable worldwide. Just as information in the form of data packets is sent through widely branching open routes in the World Wide Web, goods are meant to arrive at their destination seamlessly, fast and flexibly in a world-wide logistics network. The physical internet – in terms of a standardised, modular container system, synchronised deliveries, a shared transport network and, finally, the shared use of loading capacities – would be a dream come true. “The physical, digital and operational interconnectedness of the logistics industry would be a powerful feat. But, we want to achieve the goal of a global physical internet by 2030,” says Christian Landschützer of Graz University of Technology’s Institute of Technical Logistics.

One box fits all

For a long time now, freight carriers have been lone fighters in logistics. They operate enormous distribution centres solely for their own purposes, they have their own fleet of transport vehicles and their own goods delivery system. “This individuality of the logistics industry is the reason why despite efforts to the contrary the system is relatively inflexible, inefficient and not very environmentally friendly,” explains Christian Landschützer. HGVs and containers are rarely used when full and often travel round the world completely empty or only half full. “This is why all efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in freight transport through improved transport technologies come to nothing. And it is this that the physical internet is meant to work against,” stresses Landschützer. The EU project MODULUSHCA is a first concrete step. Logistics experts want to implement the physical internet for the first time using the example of consumer goods. The Graz University of Technology team is playing a significant role in the project by developing the modular transport boxes. “We need standardised and flexible transport containers which need to fulfil over 30 criteria,” emphasised Landschützer. The modular boxes have to be true all-rounders. Among other things, they should be able to be recycled, stacked and connected to each other, suitable for all means of transport, ISO certified and combinable in various sizes as required. And on top of this, they should be uniformly marked and identifiable, and consume little CO2 during production.

Prototype from 3D printer

The team of experts from Graz succeeded in making the first physical contribution on the path to the physical internet. After extensive predevelopments, they assembled the first prototype transport box from component parts made by a 3D printer using Rapid Prototyping Technology. The transport box prototype now has to pass various laboratory tests – among others reliability of the mechanisms, strength, wear and tear and possible sources of faults. At the end of May 2014, first tests on a total of 40 further developed prototypes in two different sizes should take place in a real goods-circulation situation – specifically with a big producer of consumer goods which supplies supermarkets with articles such as body care products and cleaning agents, etc.

MODULUSCHCA was launched in October 2012 and has a project duration of three years. Apart from Graz University of Technology, other higher education institutes and research facilities, logistics companies and freight carriers from the whole of Europe are part of the project consortium.

Further Information

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Ass.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Christian Landschützer
Institute of Logistics Engineering
E-Mail: landschuetzer@tugraz.at
Tel.: +43 (0) 316 873 7325
Mobile: +43 664 3549554

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