Stakeholders in Brabant’s fast-growing logistics industry are working to resolve a range of challenges. These include skills shortages, overloaded transport infrastructure and environmental impact. The effectiveness with which these matters are handled will shape the longer-term competitiveness of the industry and its ability to maintain its top global ranking. Leo Kemps, Director of Logistics Community Brabant, outlines some of these industry challenges.

He describes Brabant as the logistics hub in the Netherlands and argues that, “for it to keep its top position, it needs technology and the smart use of data – as well as a new way of thinking about the issues”.

Tackling growing levels of congestion on the roads, such as that endured by truck drivers and commuters on the A67 and the A58, will require a more sustainable remedy than creating more road surface. “It is tricky because government seems to think that the solution to congestion is to increase the asphalt. But from our point of view, more infrastructure is not the solution. Instead, we should be smarter in our approach by thinking about why we travel, why we are sending parcels from A to B, or why there is so much travel by unoccupied vehicles. When we talk to logistics service providers, they are all thinking about growth in turnover, about higher volumes shipped – rather than about ways to reduce the volume of goods moved and how we can lessen the impact of this activity on our environment.”

Leo Kemps, Dir: Logistics Community Brabant

Challenging incentive structures

Aside from resulting in congestion and delays, these perverse incentives have serious environmental consequences. Changing incentive structures in the system will be a key to changing behaviour. “For example, we send live pigs to Italy, and the trucks come back with meat. There are too many incentives to create money in this way.”

The smart use of data relating to the movement of cargo and people is essential in streamlining logistics activities and in creating more sustainable outcomes. It would, however, require the sharing of data – a challenge in a world where information systems often are incompatible, or where departments and companies are unwilling to share data. Furthermore, available data may not always be reliable or usable.

“All the data is available, but it is not yet connected, nor is it necessarily reliable or predictive”, Kemps says. “But, in an ideal world in which we do have usable data, we could apply it in a way that uses less infrastructure than what generally is thought necessary. This applies not only to cargo, but also to the transport of people.” By way of example, he says there is much scope to improve the dependability of sea-to-land transport by enhancing the reliability of data provided by the harbours.

“Working together to find solutions for the industry is vital. If we can’t share solutions, Brabant will not be top in ten years.”

He is a strong advocate for sharing solutions – whether this is amongst businesses, with other cities or between regions. Moreover, sharing solutions is hugely beneficial to the thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Brabant logistics, who are the lifeblood of the industry. “Much of our focus is on getting new knowledge, tools and methods to SMEs, who typically don’t have the budget for high-end consultancies to create high-end solutions. In many cases this is simply a matter of making some basic operational improvements that can render these businesses more efficient and viable.”

Skills constraint

A further challenge for the booming logistics industry is the shortage of human resources. “Everyone in logistics is talking about the lack of people, of drivers, of brains. The sector boasts a high quality of organisational talent and can deliver within hours to all ports within the EU. Owing to this success, the industry is growing so fast that more and more human capital problems are arising. The new trend, then, is for fully automated distribution centres, robotisation of the warehouse and autonomous driving.”

Meanwhile, the dearth of human capital is also encouraging the move towards multimodal transport – that is, incorporating water, rail and pipeline solutions, and moving away from an overreliance on road transport. Multimodal transport is more sustainable, but not necessarily cheaper, which means that new ways of thinking are needed. In a world where the shipper chooses the modality, the logistics service provider has an important role in creating awareness of the alternatives. For example, the case for rail transport can be made to the client because, in many countries, trucks are not permitted to drive on Sundays – but cargo can still go by train”, Kemps says.

Logistics Community Brabant (LCB) brings together the business, education, government and research sectors in order to find collective logistics innovations for North Brabant. Its key partners are the Eindhoven University of Technology, the University of Tilburg, the Dutch Defence Academy, the Breda University of Applied Sciences, the City of Breda and the Province of North Brabant. LCB’s focus is on finding practical solutions to logistics questions in six areas: liveable cities, network complexity, smart industry, multi-modal transport, healthcare logistics and events.