The Schnellecke Group is an international logistics service provider headquartered in Wolfsburg. The company focuses on services for the automotive sector. Which means that for the participant in this year’s DIGITAL LEADER AWARD – the German award for digital leadership – terms like JiT (just in time) or JiS (just in sequence) are part of everyday working life.
Schnellecke Logistics now wants to raise these JiT and JiS processes to a new level in order to identify and avoid disruptions in the process flows at an early stage. Smart transport containers will play an important role on the way to digital logistics in 2025. They are also intended to lay the foundation for new digital business models.
Especially since transport containers, in particular reusable transport containers, as they are widely used in industry, are expensive and represent a not inconsiderable cost factor. That is why Schnellecke Logistics is interested in using these containers as efficiently as possible to prevent losses. In addition, it has always happened in the past that customers ran out of containers and requested new ones from Schnellecke.
Inquiries that led to time-consuming searches for possible locations of unused containers on the customer premises. To make matters worse, these were not only recorded locally, but often also manually and on paper. Some of this information then had to be exchanged by phone or email.
Container circulation planning in real time was not feasible in this way and tracking of the supply chains was out of the question. So what could be more obvious than automatically collecting the container data and processing it in real time? This would give customers the opportunity to track the containers and their goods from picking to assembly in production.
There are some solutions on the market. But they did not meet the demands of Schnellecke Logistics. For example, the system should be modular and fit as a solution component in a holistic ecosystem, called “Schnellecke iX +” by the logisticians. In addition, they wanted to take an agile approach to the introduction so that they could react more flexibly to the various project requirements.
Furthermore, all of the building blocks of the Smart Containers project should be integrated with the primary process systems via standard interfaces, in order to save separate IT development. Finally, another requirement was that the generated data provide an image of the digital world (digital twin). According to the plans, this then forms the basis for tomorrow’s AI optimizers / algorithms.
In view of these specifications, an IoT-based solution quickly emerged as a favorite. Schnellecke uses standard IoT components for this. All that is required for use is a power connection and a mobile radio signal to transmit the data. These then end up on a SAP cloud platform. One of the reasons they chose a cloud platform was because the smart container solution can also be used in locations where no IT hardware is used.
Another reason for the SAP cloud platform was that it could easily be connected to the existing SAP on-premises landscape and with system solutions developed in-house, such as the Schnellecke JiT system. In addition, such complex applications with ERP functions are easy to implement.
Based on these requirements, Schnellecke Logistics started in mid-2017 with a pilot as part of the strategic digitalization of Schnellecke Logistics. The JiS container circulation between Schnellecke and its customers should be monitored. The pilot already showed innumerable possibilities for the proactive detection of faults as well as for the optimization of the logistic processes. The prototype was then expanded and improved in 2018.
In 2019, Schnellecke deployed the solution for additional customers. Schnellecke wants to continue working on the optimization this year. The agenda includes, for example, the integration of further movement data (truck positions) in order to optimize the predictability of the material receipt at the customer. At the same time, Schnellecke wants to integrate further process information into the system in order to achieve higher accuracy for the container control.
Overall, Schnellecke has so far drawn a positive conclusion, since customer satisfaction has increased significantly: everyone involved in the supply chain can access the status of the smart containers in real time via the web. A fact that reduced the communication volume by 15 to 20 percent. In addition, complaints – as Schnellcke says – have dropped to zero. The delivery quality could be guaranteed 100 percent. There has been no production downtime since its introduction.
And Schnellecke learned something else in the course of the project: Innovations need different methodologies and technologies and requirements than, for example, “classic” rollout projects. It was also found that innovations only grow and thrive with the project. A point why the chosen, agile approach paid off.