We shape logistics by applying our top expertise to develop and implement innovative, highly complex and future-proof solutions. And we also go a step further so that our customers benefit to the maximum possible extent from digitalization, automation and globalization.
Here is an overview of ten exciting, future-oriented projects from recent months.
Automobile logistics has become increasingly complex. The BLG Group experiences this trend everywhere, also in car handling in Bremerhaven: more suppliers, more destination ports, ever more model types and versions handled every day. In response to this complexity, a research project with various partners was conducted from 2017 to 2020 aimed at developing an intelligent IT system that controls terminal processes for automobile cargo handling. Translated into English, the full project name was "Automobile logistics in sea and inland ports: interactive and simulation-aided operations scheduling, dynamic and context-based management of equipment and cargo movements", or Isabella for short.
Now, since June 2020, a follow-on research project is underway, named "Isabella 2.0 - Automobile logistics in sea and inland ports: Integrated and user-oriented management of equipment and cargo movements using artificial intelligence and virtual training".
What is behind Isabella?
The project objective is to enable interactive scheduling and management of automobile handling using an intelligent, simulation-based system. The concept is that operators can use a multitouch table to access and process information about capacity utilization at the terminal easily and in visual form. Employees then receive their instructions via an app on their smartphone. The program recognizes where drivers are located, allocates them to the nearest vehicle and organizes collections by shuttle according to current requirements. This reduces travel times. Isabella focused on driving within the terminal storage area. Now, Isabella 2.0 aims to expand application of the management logic to the loading and unloading of all transport means (ship, rail car, truck). Additionally, Isabella 2.0 improves the management algorithm with artificial intelligence so that it can define optimal initial situations right at the start of shifts.
Another component of the second research project is development of a virtual training environment for drivers who are new to BLG AutoTerminal Bremerhaven. The application is based on the multitouch table and also uses VR equipment to guide the training participants around the terminal in 3D. They can learn the terminal topology with its area designations and routes as well as how to use the Isabella app. A troubleshooting function is designed to teach the users additional process knowledge.
Both Isabella projects have received funding from the Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure. They are supported by the technical inspection organization TÜV Rheinland. Isabella 2.0 is scheduled to run until the end of June 2023.
Drawing on more than 20 years of experience, BLG LOGISTICS offers customers in the automobile industry global supply of auto parts. In the CKD area, the parts from the individual deliveries of suppliers and manufacturers are combined, packed as a complete kit, and delivered to the overseas assembly plant. BLG Industrielogistik picks and packs small parts in one of its logistics centers in Bremen. Within a 100-day project and a 6-month sprint, we applied artificial intelligence to the process.
What is behind SmartIdent?
In auto parts logistics, especially small parts can quickly become a challenge for logistics staff. That's because their small size and shape sometimes make it impossible to attach an article number to them. They can only be identified with the VDA label and a model wall. That makes searching for parts difficult and time-consuming. And there is also a danger that parts are misidentified. This is where artificial intelligence and machine learning can help. BLG tested the use of a "deep neural network" for parts identification. The system consists of an identification software, camera, lighting and weighing unit. The objective is to reduce the search time and the need to consult the model wall when packing parts. The target identification accuracy was 99.5 percent.
Even during the 100-day project, it was confirmed that SmartIdent has the potential to reduce the checking time, while also improving working conditions by eliminating constant trips to the model wall. In the subsequent 6-month sprint, the software was further developed and the system even exceeded the target accuracy: during testing, 99.8 percent of the parts were recognized or optically correctly detected. Therefore, SmartIdent has the potential to slash the checking time for many part types by 80 percent.
Considering these great results, it's logical that BLG has decided to roll out the project in normal operations. First, a learning software must be developed and key users trained. Then BLG will be able to teach the system new parts.
You can find out more about this project in episode 66 of the BVL.digital podcast, presented by our Head of Digitalization, Sustainability and IT, Jakub Piotrowski:
Efficient, space-saving warehouse technology at our Ochtrup site
5 million product units on a floorspace of 24,400 m² – that's a major logistics challenge. To manage the extensive product range, high throughput and large variety of sales channels, BLG LOGISTICS chose AutoStore®, a Norwegian warehouse technology. It is space-saving and can react flexibly to volume increases. BLG LOGISTICS is one of the first companies in textile and fashion logistics to use this concept in practice. 42 autonomous robots move at a speed of 3.1 m/s over a grid, conveying 95,500 containers. Our Ochtrup site features an additional hanging goods warehouse with an eleven-kilometer rail system for processing hanging goods. As many as 235,000 product units can be transported through this facility.
Innovative small parts warehouse at our Meerane site
Meerane is situated 20 kilometers to the North of Zwickau. Here, on a 6,500-m² site, we built a new BLG Logistics Center with an automated small-parts warehouse in just twelve months. It specializes in handling and storing cable sets for electric vehicles. All the facilities at the small-parts warehouse with 37,080 spaces are new, including warehouse systems, conveyor technology and storage technology. Up to 11,500 cable harnesses can be delivered every day. Roughly 250 small load carriers can be taken out of storage per hour.
Geiselwind automated facility
New in Geiselwind is a gigantic logistics center – with a state-of-the-art multichannel system including 714,000 carton and container spaces for the sports article manufacturer PUMA. The facility features 22 kilometers of conveyor technology. There are 480 shuttle vehicles to transport more than 12,000 articles. BLG LOGISTICS was involved in the project right from the start, from the first concept through to commissioning in April 2021. Find out more here: BLG starts operations in PUMA European Logistics Center in Geiselwind
Cutting back on journeys with empty and only partly full vehicles for more sustainable transport logistics – these are the goals of the research project KITE, an acronym of the German title which translates as "Artificial Intelligence in Transport to Reduce Emissions".
What is behind KITE?
The KITE project partners are developing an AI-based forecasting method which will predict transport volumes on various levels and horizons. Companies will be able to use these predictions to plan their tours so they pool shipment volumes and reduce empty trips. The partners are also developing a long-term prediction solution. It will attract new customers and build an intelligent transport network. The project aims to reduce CO2 emissions caused by empty and partly full journeys by up to 15 percent. The Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure is funding KITE to the tune of around one million euros.
Our HR department now uses a chatbot to identify suitable potential applicants and candidates at an early stage and to establish initial contact without the need for resumes or job ads.
What is behind FRÄNKIE?
The project launched in July 2020. The trigger was the new PUMA Logistics Center in Geiselwind, which BLG LOGISTICS put into operation in April 2021. The facility needs some 300 employees with various qualifications in all areas of work.
To streamline the application process, a chatbot guides applicants through the first step. Apart from general information about the company, the bot provides access to current job offers. At the same time, it sets up an immediate initial contact between BLG and potential new employees. The system is designed to reach as many motivated applicants and potential applicants as possible, even if they aren't currently planning to apply. That way, it should increase the number of applications. The chat service is available on the BLG LOGISTICS Geiselwind website.
At the Falkensee site, BLG Industrielogistik takes care of a variety of activities for partner companies, including supply of the Siemens switching system plant in Berlin. BLG plans to use machine learning in Falkensee to optimize personnel planning in this business unit for greater planning efficiency.
What is behind machine learning in Falkensee?
The objective of the research project is to improve the database for the Falkensee site in an iterative way as a basis for personnel planning. The method tested here is machine learning, a subcategory of AI. BLG LOGISTICS uses data about e.g. goods receipt and dispatch, number of transport orders and employees' vacations. Then the system applies this data to predict personnel needs. During the test phase, this gave BLG LOGISTICS a five-percent optimization in personnel requirement prediction and planning for technical employees. The new system cuts costs and improves planning efficiency. Therefore, it is being examined for further possible applications at BLG LOGISTICS.
In this project, BLG LOGISTICS tested and analyzed the potential use of inductive charging. At present, vehicles are driven to a charging station for charging and manually plugged into the power supply. Due to the long paths traveled, charging eats up a lot of time and effort. This makes it almost impossible to charge equipment during ongoing operations or breaks. Another problem is that incorrect use of the charging stations often results in broken cables or defective plugs. The result is high replacement part costs or downtimes of charging equipment.
The project goal was to enable charging during ongoing operations. An inductive charging system means that charging can start quickly and anywhere. Because vehicles don't have to drive to remote charging stations, they can be charged during operations or in breaks. Another benefit is that the inductive charging system used needs no maintenance over its entire service life of several years. That means no further costs and wear parts as well as no downtimes. The project was carried out in cooperation with a startup and won the IFOY Award innovation prize for Startup of the Year 2020.
Over recent years, the proportion of newly registered electric vehicles has increased steadily. BLG LOGISTICS is aware of this both in handling and transport. E-mobility presents new challenges for the logistics concepts and infrastructure in ports. The batteries affect both load volumes and loading of automobile transporters and rail cars. The electric SUVs from Chinese company AIWAYS are recharged at BLG AutoTerminal Bremerhaven. The vehicles are destined for the European market. On behalf of AIWAYS, BLG LOGISTICS takes care of quality assurance and customs clearance during interim storage at the auto terminal. Then the vehicles continue on their journey.
Climate change presents us with major challenges in all areas – ecological, social and economic. That is why BLG LOGISTICS has resolved to become a climate-neutral company by 2030. Our Mission Climate is designed to ensure climate-neutrality through greater energy efficiency, our own renewable electricity generation and purchasing green electricity. We invited the independent Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) to examine our program. Their verdict: In November 2020, BLG LOGISTICS was the first German logistics service provider with scientifically recognized climate protection goals. "The SBTi evaluation shows that we're on the right path and that our climate actions stand up to scientific scrutiny," says Frank Dreeke, CEO of BLG LOGISTICS.
What is behind Mission Climate?
Ambitious goals demand innovative ideas. In concrete terms, BLG LOGISTICS aims to cut CO2 emissions within the company by 30 percent. We will achieve this through energy-saving measures such as changing to LED lighting and generating green energy with our own photovoltaic systems. Externally, we aim to cut emissions, e.g. from fuel consumption by our subcontractors or our employees who commute to work, by 15 percent.
We will also drive climate neutrality by more effectively linking digitalization and sustainability, for example by implementing a collaborative energy management software or participating in research projects to achieve our objective.
Furthermore, BLG is looking at new drive technologies for our industrial trucks in our own and customers' logistics centers. At some sites, we already use forklifts driven by fuel cells or lithium-ion batteries.
We received three awards from renowned institutions for our climate protection work. After the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) examined and confirmed our goals in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, Statista and Lean & Green also endorsed BLG as a climate-conscious business.
These ten projects give you a small insight into how innovations, willingness to change and digitalization are changing our lives – in logistics and in the work processes of our employees at BLG LOGISTICS. Yet this is just the beginning. We look forward to continuing to shape the future of logistics.