The transport and logistics sectors are currently in the process of automation. In the coming decades it will undergo deeper transformations, which will test the reaction capacities of countries such as Spain. “We must be creative in changing our way of thinking. There is a lot of work to be done in the short term, in short electoral cycles, by survey, and there are structural changes that must be applied in the medium and long term, “says Inprous CEO and president of Pimec Logística, Ignasi Sayol.
For his part Miquel Serracanta, the founder of the consulting firm Solutions & Decisions, put the emphasis on how the increase in competition “has caused a very important fall in prices both in the trunk and in capillary transport”, so that the carriers that have increased in size have started to search for synergies and efficiencies in their supply chains in parallel. For this reason, he considers that it is necessary to prepare for changes such as the electric and autonomous vehicles, since “they will substantially modify our environment in the next ten years”.
Globally, transformations will involve changes in jobs and new trends will be developed that will improve the efficiency of deliveries. Although technological advances will be inevitable, they will occur gradually and will vary according to the region. These are some of the results published in the new report prepared by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the World Maritime University (WMU).
Evolution vs Revolution
Although the report foresees that the automation of global transport is more “evolutionary” than “revolutionary”, Sayol affirms that “the irruption of technology in logistics will radically change the way we do things”. Gradual changes are expected in transport patterns that will affect the different regions of the world. According to Serracanta, autonomous vehicles “will not arrive for another five or ten years and will do so progressively, coexisting therefore, with difficulties, with vehicles driven by humans.”
The partner founder of Solutions & Decisions foresees that automation will make roads safer and that fewer accidents and traffic jams will occur, “with which the reliability of compliance with deliveries will increase”.
Sayol points out that logistics 4.0 will be an opportunity for developing countries, “because they can implement it without the mortgages that exist in developed countries.”
“Automation will probably reduce the differences between developed and developing countries in the medium and long term, once the latter can be added to the technology train,” says Serracanta. However, it considers that in the short term it is possible to increase them, especially in terms of road and rail transport: “Those who are in the process of development may not be able to start this road yet due to previous pending issues, as indispensable basic infrastructures”.
Worldwide, it is expected that transportation routes will also change if situations such as a hypothetical stagnation of China or the growth of Mexico are consolidated. If confirmed these trends, directly affect the GDP of the countries. However, this forecast does not apply to long-distance maritime transport, which will continue to be the main means in terms of scale and volume of goods transported. In contrast, a reduction in road transport is expected both in the EU and in the countries of Southeast Asia, as well as growth in the maritime sector, because “it is still in an early stage of transformation,” according to the study.
The Impact of Automation on employment
Automation will impact the transport sector through the destruction, displacement and creation of jobs. Workers will be affected differently according to their level of skill and preparation, with the least educated being the most affected. This will require the retraining of professionals such as cargo agents and crane operators so that they can work complementarily with this technology, notes the report of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the World Maritime University (WMU). However, despite the high levels of automation, human resources will still be necessary, especially in cases where people provide additional value.
“The challenge will be twofold, for the companies that have them on staff and for the worker himself, who must improve his own employability with additional training if he does not want to lose possibilities in his current and future position,” says Serracanta. “The repetitive tasks and added low value are the first at risk of being replaced by robots, and workers who today are the first to be recycled.” In fact, today automated metro lines are already operating, such as the one that connects the city of Barcelona with its airport, or the one that connects the two passenger terminals of the Frankfurt airport in Germany.
In addition to the automation of vehicles, infrastructures and processes, the new logistics 4.0 will allow technologies such as Big Data or artificial intelligence to be progressively applied to know what the client wants, anticipate demand and position stocks at the suitable point. “It sounds like science fiction, but it’s already a reality,” says Sayol.
The CEO of Inprous also includes the internet of things (IoT) and blockchain in this group, which “will enable the creation of dis-intermediated and efficient marketplaces that allow for optimisation and secures the available transport resources”. Finally, “more complex technologies to apply in reality” will exist, including platooning. “Here the time horizon of implementation is more difficult to get right, as it is subject to the legislation of each country and investments in infrastructure that inevitably must be made,” he explains.
According to Serracanta, this automation and logistics 4.0 will also allow for the “reduction of consumption and fuelling of large trucks, because they are more efficient than humans, with which there will be less CO2 emissions and the environment will appreciate it”. Thus, an evolution is foreseen in the logistics transport sector that will bring economic benefits and that will entail new regulations, a greater technological preparation and the development of new skills and dynamics in the labor market.