DHL Express’ Brussels hub will reach its capacity limits much earlier than initially forecast. So action must be taken quickly to prevent jams and delivery hiccups. Currently, the integrator is studying various options to keep on delivering constant product and service quality to its customers and overcome the capacity squeeze. Building a new gateway from scratch might be a feasible option, indicates the integrator’s Brussels’ spokesman, Freek De Witte.
“When building new infrastructure, we always depend on capacity forecasts which extend over a period of ten years. When the new BRU hub was conceived in 2015, we had a growth rate of 8% per
year,” Mr. De Witte explains. The expansion measures decided then were based on this figure.
However, this estimation was quickly overtaken by reality. “In 2017, when the operation was started, our growth had reached already 10%.” This was the first indication that the old figures on which the expansion of the hub was based on were no longer tenable.
Meanwhile, the hub is facing constraints to accommodate the volumes handled, Mr. De Witte confirms to CargoForwarder Global. “The building proves to be too small than earlier expected.”
Different scenarios on the table
Not surprisingly, in Covid-19-hit 2020, the growth of express goods literally went through the roof, reaching 17% in average, more than doubling DHL’s 2015 estimations. A discrepancy, which the communications manager explains as follows: “The increase was due to three key reasons. Firstly, during the different lockdowns which caused the closure of stationary trade, consumers ordered articles mostly online.” Consequently, this new purchasing habit catapulted the integrators’ transport volumes such as those of DHL and its peers, steeply upwards.
“Secondly, there was the constant flow of face-masks and other medical supplies. Thirdly, the vaccine logistics has started gaining speed,” he concludes.
This was complemented by DHL’s traditional business, such as automotive, for instance, which showed no slowdown last year, but instead remained quite stable, Mr. De Witte confirms.
Having said this, the question arises as to how to upgrade DHL’s Brussels facility in order to best handle the ongoing growth of e-commerce volumes and other express goods beyond 2021. Or, if a fundamental structural and operational solution might be a better alternative to building extensions in BRU?
Mr. De Witte can imagine a big solution by erecting a new hub from scratch, taking pressure off the existing ones: “At the moment, we operate three major hubs in Europe: Brussels, Leipzig, and East-Midlands. Expanding Brussels or one of the others, may be an option, possibly supported by road services. Creating a 4th hub may be another. It’s early days yet, so we cannot say what options we’ll prefer in this respect.”
By bringing a new gateway into play, DHL has stimulated a debate that is likely to pick up speed quickly, provided shipment volumes continue to grow strongly.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels
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