The Dutch agricultural sector has a strong global import and export position. Many transport movements by road and water to and from the port of Rotterdam are required in order to move all goods from A to B. How do you organise this transport as efficiently as possible? According to Rotterdam Food Cluster, this search calls for a new way of looking at agrologistics. Over 50 professionals attended the ‘The Future of Agrologistics’ meeting on 17 April.
Five speakers told the captivated audience about the latest developments in food transport relating to data and knowledge sharing, process improvements, high-tech solutions and smart collaborations. ‘Digital innovations such as track & trace, blockchain and smart reefers are indispensable for efficient agrologistics in the Rotterdam region’, says Adriaan van der Giessen, project manager for Rotterdam Food Cluster.
Track & trace system for containers
Emma Taapken from the Port of Rotterdam Authority is working on the new digital service Boxinsider; a track & trace system for containers with which freight forwarders in agri & food can track their goods. ‘It is still a very time-consuming and error-prone task to manually find out from various sources where and when the expected goods are going to arrive. What’s more, by constantly checking this information, you continue to lag behind.’ Boxinsider’s track & trace system automatically combines data from different sources. This ensures reliable information. ‘If something goes wrong in transit, users are notified immediately so that they can respond proactively,’ says Taapken.
Digital logistics platform for efficient transport
While one department focuses primarily on the requirements of the freight forwarder, another focuses more on the logistics of the entire food chain. For example, Freek Brilleman was commissioned by Rotterdam Food Cluster to carry out research into Smart Logistics. What is the most efficient way of transporting goods? Together with food companies, Rotterdam Food Cluster has set up a pilot for this purpose. They exchange logistics data in a secure digital environment. The aim is to promote logistical cooperation and to transport as many products as possible with as few trucks as possible. ‘We are creating a digital logistics platform that ensures that physical transport runs more smoothly and also improves communication between the various participants in the platform, for example. By becoming aware of any problems sooner in the logistics process, they can streamline their planning more effectively and therefore save a lot of time and money.’
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Real-time information through smart reefers
PhD student Bob Castelein is carrying out research at Erasmus University into how the port of Rotterdam can make more effective use of reefer containers. His research shows that it is valuable for a seaport to create strong cooling clusters in which various functionalities are linked together around cold stores. ‘The port of Rotterdam can play an important role in this as an investor or co-investor, for example by making land available and investing in the quality and accessibility of facilities for energy management, customs and quality control, depot, PTIs and maintenance.’ Another case he is investigating is the use of the smart reefer: a refrigerated container equipped with a modem that can send real-time information about its location and internal variables such as temperature, humidity and oxygen level. This development has been initiated by shipping companies that use the application to know where their goods are, where they are heading and how they can be used more efficiently. It also provides more precise information about when the refrigerated container requires maintenance. According to Castelein, more options are possible in the future. ‘This way, smart reefers can make autonomous decisions in adjusting their route and in controlling their temperature.’ One of the challenges is that the data is in the possession of shipping companies. ‘If the port of Rotterdam and the shipping companies work together, the smart reefer can offer a lot of added value in terms of safety and speeding up the certification process,’ says Castelein.
Improved availability through synchromodal transport
How can we reduce the number of transport kilometres on the road? By using other modes of transport, for example by water. This is what Tom Tillemans, programme manager for the NewWays Zuid-Holland initiative, is investigating. NewWays is a national initiative with a regional approach. ‘We try to align the requirements of Topsector Logistiek with the goals of the region and the province. We do this by building new synchromodal transport corridors together.’ In order to promote the use of alternative modes of transport, Topsector Logistiek and Connekt established the Lean & Green Off-Road programme a few years ago. ‘By integrating and synchronising all modes of transport (road, inland shipping, rail, short sea), businesses and governments can save CO2 and at the same time increase the availability, accessibility and liveability of their region,’ says Tillemans.
Efficient agrologistics with blockchain
It appears to be an indisputable fact that sharing more data between different parties in the food chain is crucial for more efficient agrologistics. According to Alfred Botterhuis from the digital service DELIVER, however, there are still some necessary risks. There is often a lack of trust between trading parties and little transparency about the origin of goods and the route they take. Moreover, for the time being, most trade takes place on paper, making data sharing an inefficient, fraud-prone, time-consuming and costly process. ‘DELIVER is an open and neutral system that connects different international trading parties and platforms through blockchain technology. The platform itself is a large universal connector that functions as a notary. This notary allows producers and consumers to access each other’s data without it being stored by an intermediary. Companies themselves therefore remain the owners of their data, but DELIVER offers added value by digitally linking the data and thus making the connection between the various platforms,’ says Botterhuis.
Applying innovations yourself?
Would you like to know more about one of these innovations in agrologistics? We would be happy to put you in touch with the right party. You can also contact us about participation in the Smart Logistics project.