Something old, something new... Callum Wardle looks at innovation in the electric truck arena

Whilst growing demand for battery electric passenger cars has captured most of the headlines recently, a quiet revolution is already underway in the development of next generation electric trucks.

The environmental benefits of zero-emission electric trucks are self-evident – both in terms of their impact on global CO2 emissions and their ability to reduce road-side local emissions. However, there are significant commercial benefits too for haulage firms and transport operators. As the technology improves, the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles becomes less than for conventional ICE-powered vehicles, due to improved reliability and reduced servicing costs of electric drivelines. Improved vehicle performance also becomes a factor, as the typically high torque of electric drivelines exceeds that of similarly-sized ICE trucks.

Electric delivery vehicles are not a new concept. The classic example is the milk float. Perhaps less well known is the use of electric refuse trucks, which were first used by Birmingham City Council in 1918. More recent Patent V7I8new entrants to the market are Arrival and Volta and both have partnerships with well-known delivery companies to provide electric vans and trucks.

This ‘reinvention’ of established ideas is evident in a recently published patent application US2020/0247224, filed by Daimler AG. This application addresses the issues of efficiency losses and unsprung weight in the electric driveline for larger electrically-powered commercial vehicles. To date, two main concepts have been employed to electrically drive larger trucks. An electric motor, often in conjunction with a simple gearbox, is used to drive a conventional axle-mounted differential via a propshaft. Alternatively, individual wheel-mounted motors are used to directly provide drive to the wheels. In the case of the former, transmission losses are still incurred through the propshaft, whilst in the latter case the unsprung weight of each wheel and associated motor unit is greater.

Daimler AG addresses these issues by mounting a fully integrated motor (6), gearbox (8), and differential (12) as a unit to the chassis rails (2) of the vehicle. Driveshafts (14) are connected between the differential and respective wheel hubs (16), via flexible, universal joints. Each wheel hub, and associated stub axle, is suspended from the chassis using respective leaf springs (20) and are connected together by a hollow element (21), in an arrangement known as a ‘De Dion tube’.

This arrangement has a number of advantages. Transmission losses are reduced by eliminating the propshaft and, by mounting the drive unit to the chassis, unsprung mass is reduced in comparison to individual in-wheel motors.

At first appearance, there is nothing radical about this proposed arrangement. De Dion suspension can be traced back to the early 1900s and also made more recent reappearance in the original Smart car, also manufactured by Daimler. However, the inventiveness of this patent application lies in the combination of an electric drive unit, including differential, which is mounted to the vehicle chassis and the separate suspension of the driven wheels.

This illustrates a potentially important consideration for innovators in the electric truck space in that combinations of sometimes well-known technologies may still be patentable. This means it is possible to prevent, or at least deter, competitors from closely following the same design path by protecting some of these combinations as they are found. In a relatively new market, where the optimum design is still not settled, the ability to claim a particular design route as your own could be a key market differentiator.

One potential barrier to identifying such ‘combination’ inventions can be ‘invention blindness’. This is where once a design has been proposed, those involved tend to dismiss it as being obvious. Involving a trusted adviser at regular intervals during the design and engineering phase can help to ensure patentable inventions are properly captured.

Callum Wardle is a partner and patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers.

The UK trade association for freight forwarders says there is urgency for government ‘to put some meat on the bones’ of the future arrangements with less than 100 working days to go before the end of the Brexit transition period

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) has called for ‘greater clarity and detail’ on the new systems relating to cross-border trade that are set to come into force from 1 January 2021 when the UK leaves the EU.

“The sooner the government puts some meat on the bones of the various announcements, the better it will be for members of the BIFA, which manage a significant proportion of that visible trade,” said the forwarder body’s director general, Robert Keen.

“With less than 100 (working) days to go before the end of the (Brexit) transition period, we share the concerns of our members whether there will be sufficient time to make the necessary preparations to facilitate and implement the revised arrangements.”

He explained that when the Border Operating Model was revealed, BIFA welcomed the fact that the information contained in the documentation suggested a more cohesive approach to managing the UK’s trade flows and regulatory procedures with the EU.

The announcement gave some clarity on the timing of increased controls; the overall processes that need to be followed; investment in infrastructure; as well as grants for training and new IT infrastructure.

However, Keen noted: “Set within the overall Border Operating Model, a pattern is emerging of announcements with attention-grabbing headlines, but minimal detail that doesn’t appear to have been thought through.”

Forwarding V8I7He underlined that BIFA has significant concerns about the recent announcements on the Smart Freight System; the Goods Vehicle Movement System, as well as the Trader Support Service for Northern Ireland, in particular, which was announced in August.

Whilst the new systems have been announced, consultation with the trade has been minimal and some of the practicalities of implementing the new systems in regards to freight forwarding, and other supply chain responsibilities, as well as document flows, do not appear to have been taken into account, Keen claimed.

“Clearly, in regards to the Trader Support Service, if businesses wish to remain compliant they will have to implement new processes and train staff, which will mean investment at a time of huge uncertainty.

“We appreciate that Northern Ireland is a special case, but BIFA members are disappointed with certain elements of the announcement, including the fact that the Trader Support Service will include Rest of the World customs entries, which will actually lead to them losing business and revenue.”

He said the decision to include Rest of the World trade with Northern Ireland in the range of the Trader Support Service activities “has come as a complete surprise and we have already had members advising that their customers will be cancelling the customs clearance services performed on their behalf.

“There are also significant gaps in detail regarding key customs responsibilities, such as direct and indirect trader status, which can carry significant liabilities.

“BIFA members on both sides of the Irish Sea that have been encouraged to invest in employees, new IT systems, sign contracts and make other financial investments, could find themselves out of pocket with the introduction of the Trader Support Service.”

Keen concluded: “BIFA remains concerned that many of the details concerning the new systems still appear to be at the conceptual stage. We urge the government to provide urgent clarification as many questions remain unanswered for businesses in the UK, and in particular in Northern Ireland, where both the EU and UK customs rules will be applied, depending on the final destination of the goods.

“Even with the further financial commitment that was announced alongside the news of the Trader Support Service, the time frames for consultation; procurement, and then devising the appropriate IT and other operating systems seems extremely challenging.”

Robert Keen Director General of The British International Freight Association (BIFA) the trade association for UK-registered companies engaged in international movement of freight by all modes of transport, air, road, rail and sea. BIFA has around 1500 corporate members, known generally as freight forwarders, who offer a wide range of services within these various modes.

As Pol Sweeney, VP Descartes explains, entire fulfillment efficiency is absolutely crucial for those organizations looking to stand out from the crowd

The Global pandemic that we find ourselves in has presented challenges for nearly every industry, individual and organization around the world. Particularly for those in retail. Lockdown restrictions and fear of contracting the Coronavirus has prevented consumers from shopping on the high street. As a result, ecommerce has seen a huge surge in demand. Many businesses have already switched to an online only model, and those who are looking to survive the pandemic won’t be far behind. But this now makes ecommerce a very challenging marketplace – how do you differentiate your company from the rest of the competition?

Growing demand
The volume of last mile delivery is increasing rapidly. In turn, some of the major players in the industry are investing and recruiting heavily. DPD recently announced a £200m investment for its next-day parcel capacity, including £100m on transport vehicles, £60m on new regional depots and £40m on technology. Along with a further 6000 new UK jobs. Furthermore, Hermes has also announced a £100m investment as well as recruiting an additional 1500 employees to expand capacity in order to meet demand driven by the growth in online shopping.

Demand for online grocery shopping soared over lockdown too, and continues to grow. Amazon entered the grocery space pre-Coronavirus, and with the market now even more alluring, AmazonFresh has announced its plans for wider roll out across the UK.

But, as we saw during the peak of lockdown, many online grocers were not fully prepared for a sudden change in shopping behavior. From not being able to fulfill orders due to stock availability, to poor communication and customer service within the delivery service - the winning organizations were the ones who were able to respond rapidly to the unprecedented demand. Adaptability and flexibility are two key lessons for the future, not only online grocers, but all ecommerce operations.Planning V8I7

The modern customer
Not only is the volume of ecommerce shopping increasing, but customers also desire a ‘frictionless’ experience. Often, ecommerce organizations make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on the initial interaction, With the rest of the experience woefully inadequate. This is no longer acceptable, with so many ecommerce competitors to choose from, the entire process has to meet expectations.

Consumers have the power, and next time they’ll go elsewhere.

Modern consumers have the ability to consume 24/7, they expect delivery at a time which is convenient or next day delivery, and even same day delivery. But, as people begin to return to work, the luxury of being able to deliver at any time during the day will be lost and there will be an increasing demand for allocated delivery slots. And importantly, customers will want to see total visibility of their order and delivery status throughout the process.

Organizations that are looking to retain their customers will have to ensure that communication and customer service are of the highest standard. Frictionless retailing is not just about leveraging innovative technology to make it easy for customers to spend their money once: it is about ensuring the entire, end to end experience is frictionless, seamless and enjoyable to make it easy for customers to stay loyal and continue along the ecommerce journey even when we’re in a post-Coronavirus environment.

Sustainable logistics
There has never been a more important time to look at implementing sustainability into logistics practices. The demand for ecommerce and same-day delivery continues to grow exponentially and the logistics industry is facing even tighter margins. Furthermore, it’s expected that as businesses start to resume normal operations, there will be more cars on the road as people choose to avoid commuting on public transport. Sixty-four per cent of people living in cities now consider car ownership to be even more important despite congestion alone costing the UK economy nearly £8bn annually, and the US a whopping $87bn annually.

For a globe that is focusing on greener practices from waste through to packaging, the last thing retailers want is to have a high pollution fleet servicing their ecommerce customers. From congestion to driver shortages, to diesel bans and calls for more sustainable route planning, transport operators must do more with existing resources to save costs and improve their footprint. Moreover, they must be able to navigate their way through the increasing prevalence of low emission zones, restricted areas and congestion in such a way that won’t affect the customer delivery experience.

Technology to support
The importance of virtual real-time information has gained ground in recent years. Retailers increasingly recognize the value of a complete and up to date picture of the current stock position – across distribution centers, warehouses and stores – to better understand fulfillment options. But that is just part of the picture. To achieve frictionless fulfillment across all channels retailers also need to understand the stock that is in transit from suppliers, with accurate Estimated Time of Arrival. With a complete and virtual real-time picture of all stock, including expected deliveries, retailers can embrace far more intelligent fulfillment models across every channel, including in-store.

Adding virtual real-time delivery capacity information and, critically, proposed route information enables retailers to completely transform the way delivery options are offered to customers. Rather than set very specific ‘same day’, ‘one day’ or ’three day’ delivery options with a sliding price model, retailers can leverage real-time capacity insight and intelligent algorithms to offer delivery options and prices that reflect actual delivery capacity available so that consumers can select a delivery slot that is most convenient for them.

Real-time route data provides essential information to keep customers up to date on the progress of the delivery. From ‘you are next on the delivery list’ to apologies for delays due to accidents, timely and relevant communication is a fundamental component of a good customer delivery experience. Furthermore, with the ability to continuously optimize a route, even on the day of delivery, retailers can begin to effectively combine deliveries with returns collections, further enhancing the customer experience.

Additionally, utilizing intelligent routing and scheduling solutions that take advantage of telematics can be applied throughout the supply chain to help create a more efficient and sustainable logistics model. From the initial collection from the manufacturer or warehouse all the way through to the last mile of the home delivery process, it offers the ability to view the supply chain in its entirety, in real time and with up-to-the-minute data.

By creating end-to-end visibility, and applying a routing system in this way, a transport operator can transform performance, through greatly improving the deployment of resources; ensuring routes are optimized for traffic congestion and in conjunction with collection or delivery schedules; as well as allowing for more dynamic use of third party carriers and subcontractors.

Pre-booked delivery appointments allow for far better congestion management, a reduction in wait times, emissions, failed deliveries and an improvement in customer service as it’s clear exactly when they’ll be collecting or delivering. All factors an intelligent routing system can take into account to ensure that the route is optimized to the maximum potential for that day.

Customer demand for quick delivery and a frictionless experience has been growing and Covid-19 has only expedited that further. Ecommerce organizations that capitalize on innovation and unlocking greater efficiencies will reap the rewards of happy and loyal returning customers that trust the brand will deliver on their promises.

Pol Sweeney is a VP at Descartes, the global leader in providing on-demand, software-as-a-service solutions focused on improving the productivity, performance and security of logistics-intensive businesses. Customers use its modular, software-as-a-service solutions to route, schedule, track and measure delivery resources; plan, allocate and execute shipments; rate, audit and pay transportation invoices; access global trade data; file customs and security documents for imports and exports; and complete numerous other logistics processes by participating in the world’s largest, collaborative multimodal logistics community.

Business continuity in self-healing supply chains through the pandemic and beyond. By Roch Gautier

Before Covid-19, companies were already interested in the idea of a self-healing supply chain. Steve Banker of ARC Advisory Group stated in a recent Forbes article, ‘The term ‘self-healing supply chain’ is beginning to be used. This term reflects the idea that parameters should automatically update. It also includes the idea that the best plan is useless if unexpected events occur. It is important not just to create an optimum plan, but to replan using a robust control tower as needed. A self-healing supply chain is impossible without a robust supply chain digital twin.’

Business continuity refers to maintaining, adjusting or rapidly resuming business functions in the event of a major disruption. In a recent report titled ‘Beyond COVID 19: supply chain resilience holds key to recovery’ – Baker McKenzie and Oxford Economics cited that the pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented global supply chain crisis. Forecasting global recovery as early as H1 2021 in the hardest-hit manufacturing sectors, the firm alluded to digitalization of supply chains as strategic for businesses to achieve resilience and sustainability.

On this road to recovery, businesses must stay ahead of the curve. Recently, I’ve 4spoken with supply chain professionals in the process manufacturing industries to learn how their organizations were adapting and achieving business continuity by leveraging digital twins. Let me share some of what I have observed and learned.

Phase I: Protect the people and the business
Keep plant operations personnel safe
I learned about a North American company that rapidly incorporated social distancing constraints into their production planning and scheduling digital twins to help keep manufacturing operations personnel safe. While Supply Chain V8I7generating optimal manufacturing plans and schedules, the digital twin technology ensures operations personnel work in a section of the production facility with adequate physical distancing while considering complex manufacturing equipment constraints related to using alternating lines/equipment on various days of the week.

Gain insights to financial and operational implications of business scenarios
The other priority was to protect the financial health of the business. Many organizations mobilized a team responsible for evaluating the financial and operational implications of numerous short-to-mid-term business scenarios. I learned that a European company had been using their end-to-end supply chain planning optimization digital twin to analyze a number of scenarios every day. Their digital twin allows them to easily change time-period-specific data assumptions related to supply and demand conditions spanning their global supply chain. Since their digital twin makes use of holistic mathematical optimization methods, they were able to develop a portfolio of supply chain ‘game plans’ on how to best respond to circumstance. My takeaway is that supply/demand scenarios analysis has rocketed in importance in the process manufacturing industries since the beginning of the pandemic.

Phase II: Adjust processes to achieve continuity as supply/demand conditions fluctuate
Keep work-from-home and on-site teams aligned constantly
Maintaining business continuity and safe reliable supply chain and manufacturing operations became more challenging when people were directed to work from home. I learned a wonderful story about an Asian production site that is using a digital twin that helps their supply chain and manufacturing operations teams stay aligned and on the same page throughout the day. The technology allows them to interact with a live web-based view of the latest published schedule, view projected inventory positions, identify problems ahead of time and helps everyone maintain situational awareness about what is happening at the manufacturing facility and working towards a common goal.

Quickly adjust to keep demands, capacity, supply and operations execution in synch
I learned of a company that produces some materials that has been in higher demand in past months that leverages a scheduling optimization digital twin which helps them align demands, capacity, supply and operations execution team members daily. The digital twin allows them to adjust to changing conditions and helps them improve cash flow, ensure on-time shipping performance and flex production output.

Phase III: Prepare for the recovery
Monitor demand for signs of recovery and rebound
Most companies I have spoken to recently are reporting their demand forecasts are less accurate than before. In preparing for recovery, some are using digital twins to monitor changes in demand trends week-over-week as part of their weekly Sales and Operations Execution (S&OE) meetings.

Redesigning supply chain and manufacturing to be more resilient
The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities in today’s global supply chains. There is an opportunity for manufacturers to (re)design their businesses to make them more resilient. This will involve analyzing and building redundancies for critical product lines and associated production and supply capabilities including reviewing existing suppliers and locations; substitution options; as well as existing manufacturing locations and the current flexibility of manufacturing resources This is an area where an end-to-end supply chain optimization digital twin can be leveraged to explore and analyze various supply chain and manufacturing (re)design alternatives to build more resilient businesses.

Strengthen your supply chain with self-healing capabilities
Digital supply chain planning and scheduling twins are often used to make customer order promises and commitments. There are risks to customer service levels and on-time in-full KPIs if digital twins get out of synch with reality. Self-healing supply chain capabilities ensure that supply chain digital twins remain as accurate as possible, reflecting demonstrated plant, equipment and process performance. This is achieved by automatic detection of data inputs that may no longer be valid amongst the tens to hundreds of thousands of manufacturing data inputs used in supply chain digital twins. Self-healing supply chain capabilities help identify these proverbial needles in the haystack with minimal time and talent input.

Self-healing supply chain capabilities can also combine both predictive and prescriptive technology. For example, low-touch machine learning is used to predict with high degrees of certainty manufacturing equipment/asset failures weeks in advance. Prescriptive mathematical optimization methods in supply chain planning and scheduling digital twins make use of these advance equipment failure warnings to answer the question ‘When should we take planned downtime (in advance of the predicted failure event) to ensure minimal disruptions, costs and impact to customer order commitments and relationships?’
Digital twins are proving to be critical tools for many manufacturers in the process industries during these uncertain times. Digital twins provide insight so organizations can adapt to this new operating environment and keep supply chain and manufacturing operations running as nimbly and efficiently as possible. Building digital capabilities now will help organizations prepare for the ongoing uncertainty that is likely to continue into 2021 and beyond.

Roch Gautier is Senior Product Management Director at Aspen Technology, a leading software supplier for optimizing asset performance. Its products thrive in complex, industrial environments where it is critical to optimize the asset design, operation and maintenance lifecycle. AspenTech uniquely combines decades of process modeling expertise with machine learning.

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