The Future of Logistics: Shaped by Driverless Technology?

In the first two parts of our series covering emerging technologies in logistics, we looked at both 3D printing and UAV machines. Since, Airbus has used a 3D printer to manufacture the majority of an aircraft. Amazon are also furthering their exploration into Drone technology to minimise delivery times. A fast moving landscape incorporates a great many new technologies and in this blog we’re spotlighting driverless vehicles.

driverless technology, driverless vehicle, future of logistics, driverless cars, driverless transport

The above image is a 1950s advertisement for America’s Electric Light and Power companies. Perhaps this is not worlds away from the way in which driverless technology could be integrated into our road networks (minus the board game, probably). The notion that drivers will be able to authorise their vehicles to navigate the roads for them, leaves excess time in transit to complete other tasks. Thus, productivity is heightened, serving a more efficient supply chain. However, with the driver predictably still needed in the vehicle to combat any errors, many argue that the benefits don’t outweigh the development costs of this technology.

Of course, driverless technology is already present and often integral to manufacture. Transport vehicles in factories do not need drivers. Instead, machines are automated to handle materials accordingly; this has been so for decades. This reality is far from the 1950s commercial. Rather, these machines run relatively slowly and in enclosed areas as reaction time can be slow. Overall this leaves us with a relatively cumbersome system. However, future enhancements are set to revolutionise existing machinery. Taking this technology from the factory, breaching its current limits and making it fit for public roads has been described as the next “evolutionary step” towards a brighter future in distribution.

We’ve taken the advantages and pitfalls of the use of driverless vehicles in logistics to assess to what extent a future of self-driving trucks is likely. This is to assume that the technology will be refined to allow vans, transits, and articulated lorries to self-drive, with full public road access to transport goods.

The benefits

  • Similar to UAV technology, human error is scrapped. The prime responsibility now resides with the machinery and this has the potential to minimise road accidents, often a result of driver faults. Road accidents caused by tiredness or lack of attention would no longer be an issue, generating a safer road network.
  • Once the driving has been adopted by an automated system, drivers can serve other company duties whilst in the vehicle, such as administrative tasks. This, of course, enhances productivity, saving time, money and resources.
  • Current regulations preventing employees from driving around the clock wouldn’t necessarily exist in a realm of self-driving vehicles according to many, therefore supply chain efficiency is heightened significantly.
  • In this hypothetical landscape in which vehicles can keep going, transit times will be shorter which, in turn, increases freight turnover. This increase in turnover can be used to improve other areas of a logistics plan, from cutting loading times to expanding marketing budgets.
  • Ultra-sensitive reactors would allow vehicles to drive closer together, reducing traffic congestion.
  • Driverless vehicles generally have a lower environmental impact.

The assumption has been made that the driver will still need to be present, whether this is to take over should error occur, or serve as a human contact for the company at the pick-up/delivery locations. This point leads us to the downsides of self-driving vehicles in this industry:

The negatives

  • In order to be able to take control, should an error occur, the driver on board will need to be a professional. Therefore, full training will still need to be provided in a field which is experiencing a distinctly fewer number of young applicants than ever before.
  • In our list of positives, we mentioned round-the-clock driving. However, many argue that this wouldn’t be the case and that the driver would need to remain awake and alert to combat any technical faults. As a result, rest times would realistically remain about the same.
  • Conversely, if we were to reach a situation where drivers were not needed, or even if they were to complete other tasks whilst in the vehicle, we have an employment issue. Whether this is a loss of jobs for drivers, or a loss of jobs at the company office(s) because tasks are completed mid-transit.
  • At this point we’ve not considered the downside of an automated system inherently. Software can be hacked. If this technology is hacked, people can off-road vehicles, crash them, as well as track home/confidential addresses. Clearly, there is huge chaotic potential here.

The role of the driver seems ironically vital when discussing self-driving vehicles. That is, does said employee need to be present and to what extent? We are clearly far from a road system populated by driverless vehicles, but the question still stands as to how important they will become for the future of logistics?

Perhaps the most likely projection is the existence of manned driverless vehicles. Automated trucks have a smaller environmental impact, can react quicker to dynamic road changes, create a less tiring journey for supervising drivers and reduce traffic congestion. In this sense, they benefit the logistics industry significantly. However, with alert, trained drivers still a necessity, will logistic companies invest in driverless technology for their fleet? If drivers were able to carry out other tasks whilst aboard a vehicle that was more reactive to changes, thus averting collisions, this could conceivably assist the supply chain in becoming safer and more efficient.

How do you see driverless technology shaping the future of logistics? Will it bear much influence at all? Tweet Apollo Cardiff and let us know, @ApolloCardiff. Make sure to use #driverlesstech in your comments!

Thanks to

http://www.iml.fraunhofer.de/en/fields_of_activity/automation_embedded_systems/research/SaLsA.html

file:///C:/Users/owner/Downloads/dhl_self_driving_vehicles.pdf

https://kevingue.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/thoughts-on-driverless-trucks/

http://www.transportengineer.org.uk/transport-engineer-news/driverless-vehicles-will-be-a-game-changer-for-logistics-dhl/66507/

http://logisticsviewpoints.com/2015/02/18/are-driverless-trucks-the-solution-to-the-driver-shortage/

https://sites.google.com/a/cortland.edu/driverless-car-torres/disadvantages

Apollo Cardiff Discuss 3D Printing in Manufacturing

3D printing in manufacturing

Arguably, 3D printing is becoming more prevalent as a participant in the logistics industry, with potentially astronomical implications on the supply chain. Clearly, 3D printing is evolving rapidly; analysts predict that over the following four years the industry will be worth more than ten billion dollars.

But to what extent could this development affect the logistics industry as a whole? With its involvement in the supply chain at the primitive stages, will we see a 3D printing in manufacturing revolution in our life time? Apollo Cardiff investigates.

How does the process work?

Charles Hull developed the technology in the 1980s to facilitate the production of basic polymer objects. Plenty of industries, from aerospace to medicine, are now heavily investing in 3D printing.

The process relies on the build-up of incredibly thin layers. A printer computes a digital blueprint of the product and then a slow procedure commences in which material is dropped according to said product design. Despite the slow pace of the print, there is very little setup time. The possible intricacy of this technique has enabled extremely precise levels of detail, unachievable in other methods of product manufacture.

How does it affect the supply chain?

As a manufacturing technique, there are clearly positive and negative aspects which must undergo analysis.

Positive impacts on the supply chain:

  • More local production is facilitated. This minimises the costs of shipping goods around the globe. Furthermore, this is clearly environmentally beneficial.
  • Local production additionally allows customers to receive their orders quickly.
  • When products do need to be transported across long distances, the 3D print process often means said products are lighter. As a result, fuel consumption is reduced, leading to fewer CO2 emissions.
  • It is also environmentally efficient to cut out the delivery and assembly of materials at the initial stage, as it can be manufactured at one specific point.
  • Keeping simply blueprints in digital storage would cut down storage space for manufacturers. This will also reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain a warehouse.
  • Material consumption is lowered due to the fact that the process only uses the materials necessary, there is no excess.
  • Highly complex and detailed structures can be produced, that which cannot be constructed by other manufacturing techniques.

There are, of course, negative implications considered here:

  • What does this mean for those employed at each stage of the supply chain that could no longer exist if this technology becomes normality? Low level assembly workers, for example, become largely redundant.
  • Retraining workers in 3D printing in manufacturing is costly and time consuming. The current design software is incredibly complicated.
  • The current 3D technology is not yet anywhere near fast enough to compete with high-speed manufacturing machinery. In addition, it is also not well versed in a great number of materials.
  • The cost of printing in three dimensions is currently costly, not making practical sense for most manufacturers. 

After assessing the above points, Amazon have recently been investing in 3D printing technology, prototyping the notion of printing products on the customer’s doorstep. The way in which this works is with the use of “mobile manufacturing hubs.” These manufacturing hubs contain 3D printing machines which enable local production literally at the location of delivery.

Amazon argue that this method enables a much faster delivery, which additionally eliminates any potential for damage in transit. Warehouse space is also reduced, benefiting the company and bearing less environmental impact. As a result of these points, customer satisfaction is increased, which is clearly financially advantageous.

So what does this mean for the future of 3D printing?

Overall, we still remain in the very primitive stages of 3D printing in manufacturing. Whereas many see its potential to change product manufacture and therefore the supply chain as a whole, there are responses which suggest we’re not quite ready for the revolution yet.

In its current position, 3D printing is often less cost effective than present technique. However, many of these processes do not allow the same level of customisation, which is becoming increasingly more desirable.

The current impact on distribution is low, but this doesn’t necessary stand for the future of manufacturing. The question remains as to how far away we are from its saturation into the industry. Some argue that we will witness its influence on the supply chain within the decade, with the breakdown of a global supply chain and the initiation of high-tech systems of localised and connected suppliers.

Perhaps the most sensible suggestion is the presence of 3D printing alongside other methods of manufacture. It has clear benefits but it seems impossible to consider a total breakdown of the supply chain, at least at this stage of development.

What do you think? Are we miles away or closer than many suspect? Drop us a comment or a tweet @ApolloCardiff and join the debate! #3Dprinting #ApolloCardiff

With thanks to the following sources:

  • Eureka Magazine
  • Cerasis
  • The Verge
  • The Logistics Business
  • The Guardian
  • Robotics Tomorrow