04 August 2010

Werner Schönewolf: “The last mile is the most expensive in the logistic world. We want to overcome this last mile with a micro-carrier”

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Freight delivery services have their own challenges when operating in the inner cities. The logistic experts working on the European funded FIDEUS project have taken this problem as a central issue for a complete redesign of the urban freight logistics by REBECCA PARSONS (Aug ’10)
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Most inner cities only have a limited access time for larger vehicles. Normally only during the morning hours, lorries and vans are allowed to deliver or pick-up their goods in these areas. This is a key problem not only for the delivery services, but also for the clients. But if the delivery was not done with the van but with a small electric vehicle, things would be very different. Because they are small, silent and don’t produce any exhaust gases, the small electric micro-carriers are allowed to enter many pedestrian areas at any time of the day.

Werner Schönewolf of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology in Berlin, one of the key partners of the FIDEUS research project, developed a first-generation micro-carrier. This vehicle was tested by a freight delivery service in Hanover, Germany in a field test for three months. The aim was to verify whether the concept, i.e. the transformed logistics of the goods delivery worked in principle. Werner Schönewolf and his team now want to use the results to implement the system – always having in mind to cut delivery times, improve the handling and to cut emissions.

Which is the goal of your research efforts in the logistic area?
The last mile is the most expensive in the logistic world. We want to overcome this last mile with a micro-carrier, so that the large and expensive lorries do not need to drive from door to door but place their containers like a City-Hub in the city center. The smaller electric vehicles will then take care of the further distribution. The city administration likes this of course. They want to allow this kind of operation without restrictions. This means we can use the smaller vehicles all day long to deliver and pick-up goods. It’s a real win-win situation both for the delivery service, for the clients and also for the city and traffic administration, it’s a positive trend that we have established.
The central element is the use of a electrically-powered micro-carrier. The idea is to integrate it in the logistic process of the courier and parcel services.

How will you manage to enhance mobility while at the same time reduce congestion and pollution?
At the moment we have the delivery vans driving from the depot in the suburbs into the city center, which corresponds to approximately 10 to 12 kilometers. In the inner city they start driving from door to door. And it is this stop-and-go operation which causes the highest emissions. Our goal is to replace this operation with an electric vehicle.
The delivery van does not drive a long distance, but the constant starting, stopping and restarting is the operation with the highest emissions. And it is this operation we are replacing with the electric vehicle. This means, driving less kilometers does not necessarily reduce emissions. But we have managed to cut down the journey of the lorry which causes most of the emissions.

How would the logistic process with the micro-carrier be performed?
The logistics of the delivery services could be as follows: The lorry driver enters the city center and parks and the diesel powered vehicle in an allocated parking space. Here, the micro-carrier takes over the delivery of the goods.
One crucial factor we need to improve is the efficient change of vehicle in the city. At the moment the loading of the trolleys is still complex and they need to be redesigned to fit the needs of the delivery men.

Is the micro-carrier ready for use?
We can certainly not claim, that the vehicle is ready for mass usage. Our main focus was to test the logistics. We could test if we can use such a vehicle to deliver goods, if it works or it is too bulky. In the end, the delivery persons who have used the vehicle told us that it is an option if we improve the ergonomics. Our next step is to work on the research project CITY-LOG which builds up on the experience we made with the vehicle of the FIDEUS project and to develop a second generation of city carrier.

Can you tell us something more about this second generation micro-carrier?
Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute have already started to work on a prototype of such a second generation micro-carrier. It looks totally different to the electric powered trolley of the FIDEUS project. The technicians are constructing a hand truck which combines the need of heavy duty with the latest sensor technology. Once all the electronic will be installed, the wheels will balance the weight automatically using two electric motors.

(4 August 2010)

Rebecca Parsons

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