The ‘Physical Internet’ might be a solution for the transport sector as they look to take a step towards a cleaner and more efficient logistics system. The Port of Rotterdam Authority has interviewed Professor Iris Vis about the first global research study into the role of ports in the field of the Physical Internet.
‘Suppose you want to ship a couple of containers with wine from a vineyard in Argentina to a supermarket in Groningen. Right now, this involves a lot of logistical arrangements, and long-term contracts with transporters are concluded in advance,’ says Vis, Professor of Industrial Engineering, specialising in port logistics and transport network design, at the University of Groningen. ‘With the new Physical Internet paradigm, that logistics process can become just as simple as sending an e-mail: as a sender you don’t worry about how the goods get there, as long as they get there. On time and reliable.’
To make this happen, more flexibility across transport networks is needed. ‘Distribution chains now have their own storage spaces, their own means of transport and their own contracts with transporters. Whereas things would be much more sustainable and efficient if, for instance, they were to share these means of transport, drivers or storage spaces,’ says Iris Vis. So that competitors can borrow each other’s warehouses. Or use each other’s ships or trucks. Vis: ‘In that set-up, transport decisions would also be taken from the perspective of individual parcels and not just by focusing on groups of containers. Using and exploiting each other’s materials can lead to more flexibility inside the network.’
As ports play a key role in transporting goods, Iris Vis – together with fellow researchers – started a four-year NWO research project in January 2016: “Towards virtual ports in a Physical Internet” in close collaboration with Groningen Seaports and the Port of Rotterdam Authority. One of the objectives of the project is to determine the role of stakeholders, such as port businesses, in the Physical Internet. Vis: “Ports are the cornerstones of Physical Internet networks. Via ports, goods are transported to the hinterland. The first thing we will be doing is develop a blue print: what parties play a role in the Physical Internet and what is that role?“ From a global perspective, this is the first research project in the field of the Physical Internet that centres on the role of ports.
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