The EU-funded Modulushca project aims at developing 'physical Internet' for transportation of goods

'Physical Internet' to revolutionise flow of goods

Austrian researchers have developed a prototype container for the first European test of the Physical Internet concept that aims to make transport of goods more efficient, flexible and sustainable.

The container, assembled from 3D-printed components, will now undergo laboratory tests before being used in May 2014 together with another 40 similar prototypes of two different sizes in a real goods-circulation situation test.

The test will involve supplying consumer goods such as body care and cleaning products to supermarkets and will mark the first important milestone of the EU-funded MODULUSHCA project.

The project, led by Graz University of Technology researchers, aims at developing a standardised, modular container system using synchronised deliveries and a shared transport network where goods would be dispatched similarly to electronic data packets via the most convenient routes.

Taking the inspiration from the World Wide Web, the Physical Internet concept will ultimately make transportation of goods not only more efficient but also more environmentally friendly.

“The physical, digital and operational interconnectedness of the logistics industry would be a powerful feat. But, we want to achieve the goal of a global physical Internet by 2030,” said Christian Landschützer of Graz University of Technology’s Institute of Technical Logistics

So far, freight carriers have been working without cooperating with each other – with each operator running enormous distribution centres and having their own fleet of transport vehicles.

“This individuality of the logistics industry is the reason why, despite efforts to the contrary, the system is relatively inflexible, inefficient and not very environmentally friendly,” Landschützer explained.

HGVs and containers are rarely used when full and often travel round the world completely empty or only half full. “This is why all efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in freight transport through improved transport technologies come to nothing. And it is this that the Physical Internet is meant to work against,” Landschützer said.

The containers used in the Physical Internet system, such as the prototype developed by the Graz University of Technology researchers, have to be fully standardised, flexible and modular. They should be able to be recycled, stacked and connected to each other, suitable for all means of transport, ISO certified and combinable in various sizes as required. 

On top of this, they should be uniformly marked and identifiable, and consume little CO2 during production.

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