On May 14, 2018, AmCham Belgium kicked-off its Year of Logistics with the launch of its new report: The Importance of US Companies in Belgium: Logistics. At this first in a series of events, a panel of experts discussed how new technologies such as 3D printing, drones, automation, and the platform economy are shaping the future of the logistics sector.
The moderator, Alex Van Breedam, CEO of TRI-VIZOR, set the scene by explaining the ‘capacity paradox’: demand is high, yet the fill-rate is low – in other words, the available capacity is not being used efficiently. In the long term, he envisages a ‘physical internet’, which would connect different supply chain networks, to address these imbalances and achieve more sustainable logistics. New solutions, such as co-loading, are already emerging to facilitate capacity sharing between operators.
Other new technologies may help address this capacity problem but could as well introduce more disruption into the logistics sector. 3D printing, for example, could reverse offshoring trends – one of the main drivers of global logistics flows in recent decades – by making it economically viable for companies to shift manufacturing closer to key markets. Raoul Leering, Head of International Trade Analysis at ING, is the author of a recent study on the impact of 3D printing on global trade. According to his analysis, the technology is not yet mature enough to replace mass manufacturing, but he has identified a number of industries where 3D printing could have a big impact. Mathijs Luts, Supply Chain Director EMEA & India at Abbott, sees the opportunity and confirmed that 3D printing is already taking hold in the medical device and dental implant industries for products which are custom made.
Apart from some isolated cases, the panelists were more skeptical about the use of drones in logistics, as they’re not seen as efficient. Patrick Leysen, Founder & CEO of Parcify, did, however, stress the importance of innovation in last-mile delivery. Logistics is increasingly seen as part of the product and customer experience, so companies are competing to differentiate themselves also in this area.
Van Breedam estimates that the logistics sector attracts 5% of investment but creates 13% of jobs. Logistics is labor intensive, and the sector is currently facing a labor shortage – it’s difficult to fill job vacancies, and this situation will only get worse as the current generation of truck drivers retires. New technologies can help to a degree. Warehouse automation is already advanced and autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, but it will not be possible to fully automate everything. The logistics sector is therefore also looking at how new technologies, such as cobots, can be used not to replace but to increase the efficiency of human workers.
The discussion returned repeatedly to the use and management of data, which underpins many of these technological developments and which will drive further innovation in the logistics sector. Panelists expressed their concern about data governance, which remains one of the key challenges to address.
Belgium is a logistics gateway, but international competition is increasing fast. The discussion concluded with the panelists considering whether technology can help grow the logistics sector in Belgium. Their answer was an emphatic yes, but only if Belgium acts quickly to adopt new technologies and invests in the infrastructure capacity to handle increased flows.
Upcoming Events in our Year of Logistics
- June 5, 2018: Antwerp as a Logistics Hub: The Chemical Industry Case Study
- Week of July 2, 2018: Company visit to Johnson & Johnson
- September 18, 2018: Event with Locate in Limburg and Nike