While recent figures from the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) confirm that only 30 per cent of UK manufacturers have a strategy in place for Industry 4.0 (4IR), David Williams believes that the freight sector needs to lead the way when it comes to the use of actionable data

While many big players within the logistics sector are already well down the 4IR route, too few are shouting about this capability to their customers in manufacturing. Furthermore, a more proactive approach to the adoption of machine-to-machine (M2M) data monitoring could dramatically improve our industry’s defence against potential cyber-attack and malware.

Ahead of the data curve
As an industry, we are adept at managing data to report on product flows wherever they may be in the world. This ability to interpret large amounts of information and then turn it into a simple command is the very essence of 4IR. As an industry, we’ve been ahead of the curve but not really appreciated it.

We need to realise that our customers in manufacturing could learn a lot from our experience, which puts us in a great position to become a really effective catalyst of change. While a lot of the 4IR debate is focused within the manufacturing environment, we shouldn’t forget that the logistics industry has been embracing the 4IR mantra for quite a few years.

The use of actionable data is not new to Rhenus Logistics, whose Freight Industry Solutions team in Germany has recently been recognised for its work in this area.

The ‘smart sourcing’ concept actively monitors and manages the complete transportation and flow of information, the processes, the suppliers and the logistics partners. The key success factors in the concept are the web-based communications platform known as RSCC (Rhenus Supply Chain Connect), the control tower that is used and the standardised management of partners. All the procedures are handled fully automatically, ranging from the request sent to the supplier (order) to the transport advice note and even settling accounts with the transport service companies.

The control tower recognises and resolves any disruptions that occur before they become a problem. The faults that happen are documented in a ticket system, assessed and then remedied at source using a standardised partner and supplier management system. As a result, the supply chain is transparent and maintained in such a way that logistics costs, for example, can be reduced in the long term through reductions in stocks or optimising or eliminating processes.

The award confirms our successful approach of developing innovative concepts together with our customers by talking to them. The fact that we’re receiving the award in one of the leading business regions in Europe is a matter of pride for us.

Taking on the cyber criminals
While this summer’s attack on a leading logistics provider has hit the global parcel business, this malware attack should not deter logistics businesses from embracing Industry 4.0.

Indeed, the widespread adoption of internet of things (IoT) technology across the supply chain is vital to the sector’s future success. While there are certainly issues of security and operational hygiene that need to be addressed, achieving endto- end supply chain visibility is the ultimate goal.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance out there about Industry 4.0, IoT and M2M technology. They are all different buzzwords for what is effectively the same thing – useable data.

It’s only now that the logistics industry has the affordable technology to collect and then process huge amounts of data, which can be processed in a way that enables us to make more informed decisions. In a nutshell, that’s what the IoT is all about.

Industry 4.0 is vital to the future of the freight and logistics sector. And don’t just take it from me. A report undertaken by consultancy PwC confirms that while 50 per cent of respondents said that the use of data was very important for their business today, this would increase to 90 per cent in three years’ time. Similarly, 65 per cent of companies surveyed agreed that investment in Industry 4.0 technology would provide a return on investment within two years.

While the PwC report paints a positive attitude towards Industry 4.0, this survey reflects the views of ‘c-suite’, senior managers within global businesses such as ours. What the industry needs to really embrace the potential of IoT is a more widespread appreciation of what this technology can do for us. We also need to understand that the risk of cyberattacks should not halt our adoption of 41R – we just need to understand the risk and ensure that our networks are secure.

David Williams is managing director of Rhenus Logistics UK. The Rhenus Group provides logistics services around the globe and has annual turnover amounting to EUR 4.8 billion. Rhenus employs over 28,000 people at more than 580 locations worldwide. The Rhenus business areas – Contract Logistics, Freight Logistics, Port Logistics and Public Transport – manage complex supply chains and provide a wealth of innovative value-added services.