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Physical Internet – a vision for the transport system of the future

Today, a great deal of money is flowing in Europe for research and projects that are linked to the vision “Physical Internet”, an open global logistics system. “We want to contribute to elevating the level of knowledge at Swedish partners while, at the same time, we want to examine the vision with Sweden’s requirements in mind,” says Sofie Vennersten, Program Manager of CLOSER at Lindholmen Science Park.

The vision Physical Internet has been a subject on the logistics agenda for a few years, but the concept is getting more and more attention as it concerns the development of sustainable, concurrent freight transportation. CLOSER, which is a national arena for collaboration within transport efficiencies, is of the opinion that an inherent part of their task is to contribute to knowledge assimilation around the future transport system in academia, industry and society.

At European level, the technical platform ALICE (Alliance for Logistics Innovation through Collaboration in Europe) is working for the Physical Internet vision year 2050, and besides CLOSER, other Swedish actors involved are VINNOVA, Volvo, the Swedish Transport Administration, Chalmers and SP.

The Physical Internet vision is composed of a number of various parts that together work for a more efficient global transport flow. For instance, it can include projects that focus on standardizing packaging, sharing information between carriers, new business models or horizontal co-operation.

In collaboration with Henrik Sternberg at Lund Technical University and Magnus Andersson of Viktoria Swedish ICT, financed by the Swedish Transport Administration, CLOSER conducted a pilot study on the Physical Internet.

On the question of how they view the vision from a Swedish perspective, Magnus Andersson says:
“The various projects within Physical Internet will live their own lives. Findings that arise from the respective projects have to be evaluated separately and some of the results will probably be very reasonable and valuable while other will not be so positive. This is how research works, not everything is immediately applicable.” 

Nicklas Blidberg, Project Leader at CLOSER, believes that an interesting potential exists, but that you need to keep in mind that it is a vision, therefore, certain parts will have greater potential for Swedish industry, while other parts in general will have no potential at all.

“Increased horizontal collaboration, for example, group shipment between different companies to achieve a better degree of utilization, is definitely an area that is worth focusing on. However, we can see actual problems with a completely standardized packaging system for all types of goods. Furthermore, in Sweden, an imbalance exists between the Northern and Southern transport flows, a condition that is not so apparent in other countries in Europe; other countries have, to put it simply, different conditions.”

Henrik Sternberg also mentions that you need to look at the different parts of the total vision.
“Physical Internet is a composition of elements that when looked at individually can be great. A project that connects them called CLOSER Starfish is a report that we really want to endorse (about horizontal collaboration with the aim of exploring how companies can leverage existing and available infrastructure in a more effective way).
“And automation, when it is profitable, is positive for companies. Today, most terminals have quite a low level of automation which implies that it can be expensive to reload. We know that the majority of reloading occurs at night time and accordingly, if we can create more efficient reloading, then it will create the conditions for higher utilization levels and thus more efficient flows. This is where automation can be effective but this is, of course, a huge area in itself.” 

Magnus and Henrik mention the significance of having a neutral player in the area as there are many conflicting voices wanting their say. They agree that CLOSER’S role is important as is the skill of matching the right people together to create dynamic projects and the ability to look at issues from different perspectives.

On January 10-11 it is time for the conference Transportforum in Linköping, where both Nicklas and Henrik will be on site to talk about Physical Internet. So make time, if you can, to learn more about this complex subject:

Session 36: Musikalen, Konsert & Kongress, Linköping, at 3:30-5:00 pm, Tuesday, January 10. Logistics for competitiveness (a follow up session from previous years)

Chairman: Karolina Boholm, Skogsindustrierna

  • Horizontal collaboration, Per Bondemark, the Swedish Board of Transport/SSAB
  • Physical internet – a fantasy or opportunity? Nicklas Blidberg, CLOSER and Henrik Sternberg, Lund Technical University
  • Faster dissemination of technology for greener logistics Maria Huge-Brodin, Linköping University
  • Sustainable innovations within logistics – is this possible and what is it? Maria Björklund, Linköping University