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Physical internet: the network of the future

By 2030, logistics services could be global, worldwide. All players in the supply chain would have access to a huge network called the Physical Internet.

On June 8, 2018

Imagine a universal network for logistics operations, shared by everyone involved in the chain… By 2030, logistics services could be global, worldwide. All players in the supply chain would have access to a huge network called the Physical Internet – based on the Digital Internet. It would connect all existing networks to establish the network of networks.

Sustainable and economical efficiency

The network of networks will require new standardised and intelligent containers which are traceable in real-time over a myriad of collaborative routing centres (CRC®). It will receive pooled flows from multiple suppliers and reroute them to their delivery destinations. The objective? To track all operations from one end of the chain to the other using traceable containers with RFID chips. A web database containing all relevant information will be accessible to all authorised network members. The physical Internet aims at a global transformation of how objects are handled, moved, stored and used.

Depending on the flows modelling, it could increase trucks fulfilment rate to 80 % (as opposed to an average of 60 % in Europe), reduce greenhouse gases by 60 % and bring logistics costs down by up to 35 %!

Pooling, tested and approved

«Building such a global logistics web requires the standardisation of physical objects, information exchange and procedures », states Éric Ballot, Professor of Production Systems and Logistics at Mines ParisTech.

Many tests were and are taking place in order to bring the concept to life on a smaller scale. Pilot projects such as OTC-Kaypal (Open Tracing Container), started two years ago. It tests a standard information system allowing different parties to trace DS Smith Kaypal cardboard pallets movements for optimised management. Another test was done in collaboration with 4S Network, GS1 and Mines ParisTech, to optimise the pooling of goods’ flows from 4 manufacturers, delivering 4 retailers via a Collaborative Routing Center (CRC®).

Urban distribution should also become part of the Physical Internet system by relying on a multitude of hubs located in the inner suburbs that can make deliveries to the city centre in green vehicles. Urban Logistic Spaces (ELU) on the outskirts of the city are particularly adapted to the pooling of urban deliveries as proven by the development of the CityLogin.

The physical internet vs the internet of things

These two systems of Internet have the same vocation: to bridge the gap between the virtual world and the real world by connecting the ‘things’ with the information about them (identification, location, status…). Their applications are similar in industry (optimisation of production, of logistics…) but their utilities differ. The Internet of Things integrates systems from the real world into a virtual network (smartphone, tablet…), whereas the Physical Internet spins a physical planetary web of logistic services with virtual operations monitoring. Generally speaking, the Internet of Things concerns the social activities of people (health, culture…), the Physical Internet applies essentially to logistics operations.

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