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Fraunhofer-Study: Corrugated board packagings are the backbone of logistics 4.0

The digital transformation of logistics had a major influence on the role of transportation packaging in the supply chains of trade - corrgugated board is offering a basis as carrier material for the relevant technologies. Those are the main findings of a study conducted by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), commissioned by the Association of the Corrugated Industry (VDW).

Fraunhofer IML forecasts: The transport packaging of the future will be intelligent. It will not only be a carrier of information but will also generate new information, it will be able to communicate, monitor its contents and put in place sensible measures autonomously. It will make its way to the recipient without the influence of humans. The transportation packagings of tomorrow will communicate with each other throughout all the levels of the supply chain and, in the course of that, make expedient decisions - a step, humans will eventually be unable to perform as the complexity of the database will be too big.

"Digitalization and Industry 4.0 are currently the leading themes in logistics," says Dr. Oliver Wolfrum, CEO of the VDW. "We want to know which technological developments are really important for our sector and what kind of influence the technological change will have on transportation packaging." Wolfrum is referring to a trend-study conducted by the Zukunftsinstitut, two years ago. In this study, the intelligent transport packaging was named as the 'Hidden Champion', enabling the smooth operations of the Industry 4.0. "This current analysis, conducted by the trade and logistics specialists of Fraunhofer IML substantiates this prognosis," says Wolfrum.

The team of researchers had examined the most relevant technology sectors and came to the conclusion that some of them will change the face of logistics entirely. Among those are intelligent containers and sensors for monitoring transport, as well as 3D-printing and systems for automated identification (Auto-ID).

In the area of Auto-ID-Technology, Fraunhofer experts rated fingerprint-ID systems for paper and cardboard especially promising. In this process, the principles of identification by fingerprint are transferred to the transport packaging. This is possible through the structure of individual fibers in paper, which work well as an identification feature for a cost-efficient product authentication. A high-resolution scanner is capturing a part of the paper surface of the packaging. The characteristic structure of the paper of this corrugated board packaging is then uploaded into a data base. When the product is scanned again at a later point, the result can be compared with data collected from the database.

"The advantage of this technology is that there is no need to apply labels to the packaging - this would lead to significant savings, especially for online-trade," explains Christine Auffermann, expert for trade logistics at the Fraunhofer-Institute IML and head of the study. "If we think further in this direction, the current infrastructure of identification, such as bar code scanners, could be obsolete in the future." The fingerprint-ID technology is still developing; the Fraunhofer-Institute for physical measurement technology IPM is currently conducting trials with fibre-structure-recognition of paper. "The potential is there," says Auffermann.

Already further along in the development process is the auto-ID system RFID. This technology has already been used for more than ten years. Since the cost for usage is decreasing constantly, RFIDs have a bright future ahead of them, according to experts. "The big advantage of RFID technology is the contactless identification of consignments," explains Auffermann. In the course of the digital transformation, RFID is enabling a self-controlling material flow. "The target information on the RFID-tags can be used to decentralize the management process and therefore the goods become modular objects which are integrated in digital value adding chains." Progress in the development of methods to print electronic information onto corrugated board could lower the prices for the RFID-tags even further and push the influence of technology.

The Near-Field-Communication technology (NFC) only has a short reach and is therefore more suitable for marketing purposes in packaging than it is for logistics. NFC has lots of potential for intelligent displays which can communicate directly with the consumer and give them, for example, individual purchasing tips.

Relating to the development of autonomous transport systems, Fraunhof experts see only little need for change in the transport packaging. No matter whether self-propelled vehicles, drones or delivery-robots - the goods will still be delivered in the appropriate corrugated board packaging in the future.

It is most likely that the packaging of the future will be equipped with sensors. The need for information about the condition of the goods during the transport will increase. "The most popular sensors will be the ones giving information about the kind and effect of exposure during transport," says Auffermann. A sensor integrated in the packaging could, for example, measure physical data like pressure, acceleration or vibration of the package in the vehicle, forward this information to a data center and this way monitor the intactness of the goods. "Ideally, the delivery person is warned and will not even deliver the damaged package with the sensitive tablet. In conclusion, Wolfrum says: "For now, Logistics 4.0 are still dreams of the future, but one thing is for certain: Corrugated board will play a central role in it."

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Publication date: 8/21/2017


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