ADIF logistics centre in Zaragoza, source: ADIF

Cargo should find its own way to final destination

Source: ADIF

Cargo should find its own way to its destination, where it determines a logical next destination. It could do this autonomously, without intervention of a human. This is called self-organising logistics. A step too far? Not all all, believes Walter Kusters.

In cooperation with the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Supply Chain Planning and Optimisation firm Ab Ovo has started an in-depth research to make the intermodal chain self-organising. Kusters, who is director Business Innovation at Ab Ovo and researcher Jeroen Vester will jointly present this research in a workshop given at the Freight and Terminal Forum on 28 March 2019.

Technology available

The availability and quality of real-time data for the transport industry is growing. These data are collected in ERP-products like 4RC (a cloud Rail Cargo System), opening ways to make planning and allocation decisions real-time and ‘object’-oriented, Kusters explained.

“A lot of technology is already available for self-organising logistics, such as GPS, IoT, algorithms, clouds etc. But how do the various components communicate with each other? Or, for example, which questions should the load ask the wagons to be able to participate? And what does the wagon want to know? Or which logic is followed and to which dialogue does that lead?” These are some of the questions the research team aims to asnwer.


The same applies to the logic of the logistics chain. Also the logic is already available, but is now applied by the planner in the office, with the support of the needed software and a planning system, he explains. “Part of this logic and planning rules or decisions can be applied by the load or wagon itself. But what does that mean?”

“In our research we mainly look at what makes sense. Which decisions do you make centrally from a network perspective and which decisions can or should you place with the object or implementation? This can also differ per business model. Someone who owns wagons will most likely decide differently than an intermodal operator without its own wagons.”

Not if but when

According to Kusters, the question is not if this will happen, but rather how fast it will happen. “The concept is certainly feasible”, he argues. “This is certainly important for existing players in the intermodal market. If they do not invest in self-organising and associated IT and business logic, then other parties will, causing disruption and creating new roles. Existing parties will then be ‘only’ asset providers.”

The research will be accomplished in 4 years. It includes several sub-projects with pilots and business cases. “I expect us to come up with updates and results three times a year”, Kusters said.

Are you interested in this workshop? Registration is free of charge. You must first register for the Freight & Terminal Forum, Expo only. Then, you visit the workshop programme and select the workshop of your choice.

Date: 28 March 2019
Time: 12:15 – 13:00

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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