A new year always means new opportunities. Looking into the future is something a lot of us wish for. Therefore, it is not surprising that we feel it is a very inspiring moment when you get the opportunity to talk to one of the most popular researchers in Germany when it comes to the future of logistics in warehousing.

Join us in the interview with Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel, who is the Director of Logistics at the Technical University of Dortmund, Executive Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Open Logistics Foundation. This institute advises companies of all industries and sizes in all questions about material flow and logistics and offers widespread services.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel studied Electrical Engineering at the RWTH Aachen and wrote his thesis at the University of Witten/Herdecke. His motto in life is from Erich Kästner, a famous German author, born at the end of the 19th century: “There is nothing good, unless you do it!”. Please take a look into the future of logistics with him.

We won’t be able to afford to start from scratch if we want to be in the game.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel
Chairman Advisory Board Open Logistics Foundation

Logistics Matters: Fraunhofer wants to develop IT standards for the future of logistics in collaboration with a number of companies as part of the new Open Logistics Foundation. Why?

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel: The time for solo efforts is over. Everyone is thinking of securing the data treasure for themselves. No one wants to give away their data, and definitely not to large data lakes that will use it to build new business models. We need to join forces to create open standards and preserve our data sovereignty. In the near future, our data will be enhanced by Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, collected using artificial intelligence, sold using blockchain, and processed and enhanced on platforms. We won’t be able to afford to start from scratch if we want to be in the game. The Open Logistics Foundation aims to create an open and federated ecosystem for this purpose. It’s like Linux for logistics: an environment where we have access to everything to collect data, easily handle records such as delivery notes and consignment notes, automate contract negotiation, and store data on blockchains in a legally compliant way. The idea is to have applicable components and apps that enable a Silicon Economy that meets European standards. The Open Logistics Foundation is also an initiative for anyone who has the skills to contribute, regardless of where they come from.

Source: Fraunhofer IML

Logistics Matters: What will the logistics IT landscape in future look like in ten years?

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel: The crucial point in development will be when supply chains can use artificial intelligence to handle the entire dispatch, organization and optimization process themselves. The much-cited disruption will happen when all interfaces are connected via APIs, and supply chain management control loops close via their platforms. It is difficult to know exactly when this will happen. What we do know is that work is being done around the world to develop the technologies, and we expect these technologies to have the potential to dominate the market.

Logistics Matters: The Fraunhofer Institute has a long history of working with international logistics service providers such as DB Schenker. Why do you think it is so important to have relationships like these?

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel: We’ve seen research and development processes really speed up around the world, driven by digitalization. Development methods are becoming increasingly agile and interdisciplinary. It’s important for companies like DB Schenker and research institutions like ours to join forces. DB Schenker was one of the first to recognize the innovative capacity that comes from working together. The DB Schenker Enterprise Lab for Logistics and Digitalization at Fraunhofer IML was established back in 2014. And now, by establishing the Open Logistics Platform, DB Schenker and its partners are taking the next step, creating a platform and community that has the potential to shape crucial developments and make them open source, but coming from a European context. We need companies like DB Schenker that are willing to truly break new ground, and not only in logistics.

Logistics Matters: There is a number of megatrends in logistics besides digitalization and IT. What are the top three undergoing the most dramatic change, and why?

Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael ten Hompel: I don’t know if I can answer your question because I don’t think there is a single megatrend that isn’t driven directly or indirectly by digitalization. One of these megatrends is the focus on large AI-based platforms. We expect this to result in a business consolidation process.
In intralogistics, I think swarms of autonomous vehicles and humanoid robots are coming, also triggering disruptive change. I’m confident about this since we already have all the technical components, such as affordable smart sensors and computer technology. The sociotechnical system and the position of humans will also change as a result.

January 2022