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CIO David Thornewill reveals the R&D envelope at DHL

The German postal group “Deutsche Post DHL Group”(DPDHL) has its own innovation centre in the small city of Troisdorf close to Cologne in Germany. Not only logistical solutions are developed there together with customers, industry experts and scientists. 

Thornewill and DHL are developing a number of innovations which the CIO shared with CIOmove. 

1 Robots:

Logistics is an industry that will experience very disruptive innovations over the next years. Robots are not even the biggest game changers. However, they illustrate innovation in logistics well and are therefore in the middle of the innovation centre. 

2. The Electric Post Van:

This is not the biggest innovation and not really disruptive, but behind it is one of the best stories on how the search for new ideas produces new business models. Jürgen Gerdes, member of the board at DPDHL, did not find what he was looking for at the largest automobile manufacturers. He wanted a cheap and functional model for his fleet of 80000 transporters in Germany. After Volkswagen told him, that this number is too small and not worth developing something special, he decided to build his own. Together with the StreetScooter GmbH, which was taken over by the Deutsche Post in 2014, and the University of Aachen (RWTH), Deutsche Post constructed a custom made transporter. 5000 examples are already cruising along the streets of Germany. “Car manufacturer” DPDHL is now boosting production in Aachen und is planning to open a second factory in North Rhine-Westphalia. Their own fleet is increasing constantly. Demand also comes from municipalities, manufacturing and midsize delivery companies. One of the “mid-size delivery companies” asked to test the StreetScooter. DPDHL agreed and discovered via the tracking system of the transporter that the model ended up on the test track of Daimler. Germany’s second biggest car manufacturer obviously found it embarrassing to ask the parcel deliverer directly whether they could test the new competitor.

3. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles:

In 2014 DPDHL made headlines when it flew the unmanned packet helicopter “Paketcopter” to the North Sea island of Juist to deliver medications. This was right after the Amazon drone was making an appearance in the press. In 2016 the “Paketcopter 3.0” flew to its own Skyport, an in-house developed packet station in the Bavarian Alps.

That is a spectacular sight and spurs on wild fantasies. In the meantime DHL has successfully completed the testing of this drone. In the DHL Logistics Trend Radar report drones are reported as a technology which will only really start to serve organisations in the next five-10 years. Right now DPDHL works closely with the German air traffic control to integrate drones into safe air traffic.

4. 3D-Printers

To transport rare replacement parts will soon be more expensive than to print them on location. For now this is only true for very few parts. However, this could change in the future. Joseph Scott Schiller of the DHL partner HP compares 3D technology with the PC in Logistics Trend Radar. The PC revolutionised the world in 1980 and HP wants to be heading up the next revolution. Does this disruptive change frighten logistics people? “Why should we be afraid?” asks Thornewill (left), “3D-Printers will also need to have raw material delivered to them and not all products will be made with 3D-Printing. We just have to study this new market in time and that’s what we are doing.”

DHL is already experimenting with data glasses for augmented reality, smart car parks, a stand-alone packet container next to a packing station, a Volvo truck where sensors blink in every corner. For the logistics sector these are all part of a multi-purpose network.

The DHL Trend Research identifies 12 technology and 14 social & business trends in its Logistics Trend Radar. Security is not identified as a separate trend, but is an important part in many scenarios. In security DHL has come up with an innovation that has already become a product: Resilience360 is a risk management solution which studies risks along the delivery chain of worldwide companies. What effect does an earthquake in country A or a rebellion in country B have on the delivery to country C? 

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