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Changeable Logistics Systems - the new Dimension of Flexibility

Logistics service providers and commercial enterprises have to adapt their value added systems constantly and pro-actively to daily changing requirements and must also be in a position to react to unscheduled changes. Only in this way can they guarantee their competitiveness. Changeable logistics systems provide the necessary flexibility which goes far beyond what we have known so far.

Diversification and individualization are two essential springboards for this key topic: product assortments are becoming more and more extensive and more and more variants, small series and individual items are being manufactured. Product life cycles are also becoming shorter as new technologies or functions require faster and faster product changes. This means delivery times are much more difficult to forecast than a couple of years ago. The existing logistics infrastructure cannot cope with these challenges anymore: rigid logistics systems cannot adjust to the faster changing demands. Plant and facilities for processing logistics, whose lifespan usually amounts to several decades, can thus only be used efficiently for a part of this time. In addition, there are shorter contract periods between manufacturers and logistics service providers which do not provide any security with respect to long-term planning: Under these conditions logistics simply cannot afford high investments in newer and newer logistics systems.

In the face of today’s consumer behavior the changeability of logistics systems is becoming a value in itself and must be characterized by a new strategic flexibility. Universality, scalability, modularity and compatibility are used as catalysts to promote changeability. The required growth potential can be exploited with flexible and self-controlling technologies – very much according to the Internet of Things. In the Internet of Things logistic objects, such as automated guided transport systems or even individual bins, are controlled by integrated software and can find their way by themselves. Modern IT systems which meet the requirements of the markets support the changeable design of individually configurable logistics systems.

Levels of Innovation

This key topic sets priorities in the areas of material flow technology, intelligent load carriers and operational processes. Uniform basis structures for informative mobile networking between infrastructure, material flow technology and goods are an essential condition for the changeability of logistics systems. In detail, the research fields include:

  • Intelligent logistics objects. They know their identity as well as their status and target and thus support the transition from having centralized control to the “Internet of Things”.
  • Image-based monitoring. By using an overall view provided by centralized cameras this manages the control and automated analysis of position, functional processes or quality parameters for logistics objects.
  • Cellular transport systems. They replace today’s rigid material flow systems with self-controlling, autonomous transport units. These, on the other hand, can directly communicate with other intelligent logistics objects, for example in warehouse systems.
  • Cable-based handling. Parallel kinematics using cables replaces heavy steel constructions and fixed paths in warehouse operations. The cables and winches can be quickly and simply adapted to changed structures in the warehouse and can thus be activated for new functions.
  • Changeable logistics nodes. Innovative hubs adjust their technical infrastructures dynamically according to the relevant needs and can also change their location quickly.

Potentials of this Key Topic

Today, optimizations in logistics frequently start with the processes. This key topic approaches the issue efficiency from the technical point of view: It is all about technology for creating new conditions and giving new impetus for organizing processes differently. In particular, there is a focus on labor-intensive loading and unloading sites. The intelligence for controlling logistic processes is still based in central processors today, whereas in future, it will move into the load carriers themselves. The changeability of logistics systems also sets new, higher standards for training employees: They must be constantly trained and qualified for the high-tech tasks in logistics.

Today, changeability in logistics is a value in itself: Self-controlling technologies present an important basis for logistics systems which can also adapt to unscheduled requirements.

Contact person

Dipl.-Ing. Guido Follert


Fraunhofer-Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML

Phone: +49 (0) 231 97 43 253


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