In many ways, air freight is still in the stone age, lacking modernization and clinging to trodden paths. The good news is, however, that the industry has begun to change, gradually but visibly. This promising trend was evidenced by panelists presenting their latest developments at the Air Cargo Community Frankfurt’s two-day symposium last Thursday and Friday.
To start with the most obvious results of the meet: Besides big players that are up front when it comes to innovations in logistics, startups in combination with small and medium-sized companies
and scientific institutions are increasingly making a name for themselves, by developing a multitude of smart tools to make operations easier to handle, up the transparency of processes, deliver
new track & trace apps and intelligent solutions for reducing errors and costs in shipping. This way filling niches, providing new solutions facilitating daily operations.
One of these companies not many have heard of so far is 2016 incepted Frankfurt-based CargoSteps.
To keep customers updated, if their shipment was picked up by a driver, where it is and what the estimated time of arrival is, it needed a lot of phone calls or short messages sent back and forth to the vehicle’s driver. A time costly and nerve-racking exercise day after day.
To overcome such communicative shortcomings CargoSteps’ founder Rachid Touzani realized that there was no adequate system on the market enabling real time tracking of small and urgent B2B express shipments from door to door. He and his team developed a module that can be seamlessly plugged into any company’s software through the API for exchanging and processing data between CargoSteps and the companies involved. An easy-to-use tool making transports extremely transparent and timely predictable.
Meanwhile, 1,600 users have downloaded his company’s software offering and implemented the tracing product. “We are a neutral service provider, focus on the courier and express market and try to optimize the pre and onward carriage of urgent shipments by road,” explains Mr Touzani.
Meanwhile, plans for enlarging their products are already on the table. As of next year, CargoSteps in close cooperation with air freight security specialist STI will introduce a pre-advice system, informing trucking companies about security training and refresher courses their drivers must take part in which are demanded by the regulator. This way pooling and sharing information, becoming a data manager.
Another hidden champion only known by insiders is drone startup Wingcopter. The Darmstadt, Germany-based company holds a patent on a vertical takeoff and landing aerial vehicle using tilt rotor mechanism. In addition to this, their high speed Wingcopter XBR got an entry in the Guinness Book of Records flying at 240 km/h. According to their manager Ansgar Kadura their different drone models can perform a wide range of tasks, including mapping, search and rescue missions, environmental analysis, monitoring of infrastructure or delivery of pharmaceuticals in remote areas.
One example is Tanzania where Wingcopter has applied to participate in a challenge next October taking off from Mwanza at Lake Victoria to 18-kilometer distant Juma Island for delivering urgently needed samples to the locals living on this rather isolated isle. This is followed by a three months lasting challenge in the Pacific State of Vanuatu consisting of 80 different islands.
Should Wingcopter finish the races in a leading position, they will significantly increase their brand.
Founded in 2017 and operational since last January, Dortmund, Germany-based DOKS concentrates on developing smart sensor technology aimed primarily at accelerating the digitization of warehouse inventory and stocktaking processes. Their “helper” is a drone, flying through cargo terminals, measuring the storage of goods in stackers, detecting free space or underutilization of stockyards. Also, the storage of empties becomes visible through the pictures taken and data collected by the drone. “With the help of machine learning algorithms, we process our customers’ data into relevant information and thus provide them with advantages in the planning and design of their processes, simultaneously providing a huge reduction in inventories,” illustrated DOKS manager Martin Fiedler at the Frankfurt meet.
LUG aircargo handling
In his remarkable presentation, MD Patrik Tschirch of ground handler LUG put the air freight industry in a rather poor light. Too old-fashioned, clinging to habits belonging to the stone age, lacking flexibility to master exceptional situations, were his warning words. Seen by the Himalayan high mountain of shipments Frankfurt Airport had to cope with last fall. This led to up to 72 hours of waiting times for truckers before they got a loading or unloading slot at their ground handlers’ cargo terminals. “I’ve been in air freight for 25 years but have never experienced a similar horrifying situation as seen in Frankfurt last October,” the LUG chief exclaimed.
However, it is also fair to say that things have lately improved at Frankfurt’s problem child CargoCity South. Introduced last May, an electronic slot booking system is in place developed by Hamburg-based provider Dakosy. This eases road feeder traffic substantially, avoids jams and chaos. Thanks to digital data flow along the supply chain, the delivery and retrieval processes are standardized.
Dakosy’s Fair&Link tool has led to first remarkable results. All resources involved, be it trucks or cargo terminals, are utilized much more efficiently. In total 492 forwarding agents and trucking companies have registered to Fair&Link. That’s 95 percent of all trucking companies delivering or picking up shipments at LUG. “Every second slot request (52%) we were able to confirm,” states Mr Tschirch, speaking of more than 300 per day. Surely, a remarkable result.
The bad news is, however, that LUG is the only ground handling agent at Frankfurt CargoCity South offering its customers the Fair&Link slot booking tool. Others like FCS, a WFS-Fraport handling joint venture, stepped out at a very early stage but indicated a comeback next January. All other ground handling companies doing business at the location still hold back, leading to a patchwork of users of the Dakosy developed slot booking tool.
Fast progress in air freight for reaching the next level enabled by standardized data transmissions and common use of electronic platforms sure looks differently. Shown by the acceptance problems the innovative slot-booking tool is facing.