It’s time to move data: digital twins in the transport sector


To say that this decade started badly is an understatement. However, the transport industry at large remains a fine example of success in a year marked by the coronavirus pandemic.

This success was not without difficulty: e-commerce, which had already reached historic levels, is now breaking all records. Customer demand is spectacular and transport companies have to be creative to meet extremely short deadlines while respecting drastic health and safety measures – all without compromising cost efficiency or sustainability.

As a result, it has never been more urgent for the logistics industry to accelerate the adoption of new technologies to ensure the efficient, smooth and secure operation of the entire supply chain. But how do you get there? By using the technology of digital twin, or “digital twin” in English, a virtual model that imitates a process, a product or a service.

The digital twin, an analysis tool

The concept of the digital twin originated in the 1960s when NASA began using this technology for its operations: its engineers often duplicated machines that would later be sent into space. So if a machine needed modifications, didn’t perform optimally, or broke once in space, NASA engineers could perform live diagnostics on the identical Earth-based system.

Today, there is no need for a physical model: the digital twin creates a digital copy directly. This makes it possible to analyze and monitor operations, processes and service levels, both in real time and through simulated scenarios. It is quite possible to build a digital twin for a warehouse, international shipping lanes or for a loading dock. This in order to assess current performance and to discover opportunities for process optimization.

Increase efficiency locally or globally

By adopting digital twin technology, the logistics industry has a competitive advantage: besides, many key activators needed for operations are already in place. From GPS monitoring systems on containers to IoT sensors on cargo, machinery and equipment: data from these systems can be used to create a virtual and accurate model of operations.

In practice, with the example of a warehouse, it is possible to collect information such as the physical characteristics of the warehouse, data on personnel and their activity, monitoring information from robotic systems or machines in operation. place, inventory statistics, as well as inbound and outbound tracking information. It is then possible to use all this information to create a digital twin of a warehouse.

If, due to local lockdown, employees have to work adapting to more stringent social distancing measures, a precise model of the warehouse would allow planning for the impact that these sanitary rules might have in practice – before implementing any changes.

The creation of this virtual warehouse model makes it possible to test new layouts for operations, experiment with new workflows or evaluate the introduction of automated technology. Digital twins provide a holistic view of the impact of these changes on the business without cost or productivity loss. The same principle could apply if we create a digital twin of the global shipping lanes (GPS information, localized transport infrastructure data, combined with regional weather information) from live data and the predictive intelligence under artificial intelligence. This model would indicate how the slightest variation in a route, or even a change in the type of cargo, could optimize the supply chain and achieve significant savings.

Transform productivity and gain real-time insights

The Port of Rotterdam Container 42 experience is a great example of the many facets that a digital twin can offer.

This next-generation container has been designed with IoT sensors that monitor almost all aspects of its status: location, indoor and outdoor climatic conditions, humidity, temperature, detected vibrations, degree of tilt, and noise and air pollution levels. It can even detect how content moves during transport, and why.

The data from Container 42 collected during the two years spent traveling the world will be invaluable for the Port of Rotterdam team which aspires to become the most modern digital port in the world. The Port of Rotterdam’s objective is to attract even more businesses, but also to improve the satisfaction of port customers or connected services.

With the right data in your pocket, it is possible to make intelligent decisions about virtually every aspect of a business. This is the main advantage of a digital twin. You can see how any change to operations can impact costs, service levels and efficiency in the future – before you even invest in expensive changes.

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