Driving logistics innovation in Australia: The Living Lab

For the 1650,000 or so Australian businesses in the transport and logistics sector, the launch of Australia's first Future Logistics Living Lab in February last year represented a new age of innovation and commercial opportunities for one of the nation's most lucrative sectors.

More than a year on, the Living Lab has helped to initiate two working projects that are set to reshape how logistics and transport companies do business. 

Shaping Australia's logistics future

Launched by German enterprise software company SAP in collaboration with Australia's ICT research centre NICTA and Europe's largest application-oriented research organisation, Fraunhofer, the Living Lab has attracted over 700 visitors since opening. 

Visitors to the lab include New South Wales government ministers, members of federal parliament, international delegations from Germany, China, Japan and the U.S.A., and as well as students from Australian universities. Most are interested in the Living Lab's tours, which run on a quarterly basis. Tours attendees over the past year have included academics, SME enterprises, and large logistics companies – within this, supply chain mangers up to CIOs, CEOs. The popularity of these tours has contributed to the growth of Living Lab participants and the Lab's network for potential collaborative projects. 

Since inception, the number of Living Lab participant companies has grown to 24 participants, up 10 from February last year. Comprising of mainly companies in the logistics and transport related industries, participant companies collaborate with the Living Lab's research teams to develop, test and demonstrate new product and service prototypes. 

According to SAP Research practice and Living Lab manager, Nina Trunk, the benefits of participation is that companies or individuals can fast-track innovation through the lab. 

"Participants can reduce innovation risk because the Living Lab is a test space designed to fast track rapid prototyping in a low risk environment in a collaborative way," Trunk says.

"The fact that participants come from different background, they have different expertise, and they share some of their expertise – that is one of the core values of the Living Lab – the exchange of expertise."

Demonstrations or workshops are held regularly in the lab to allow stakeholders and visitors to explore, interact and understand how the latest prototype technology will work in practice prior to commitment to real products.

Successful prototypes developed in the Living Lab will be commercialised by participants. Their adoption will serve to encourage further development of new products, process and services by other logistics companies looking to efficiently and cost-effectively address challenges, such as rising fuel costs, road congestion, carbon emissions and safety. 

Linfox brainstorms prototype

The collaboration between SAP and Linfox was initiated during a Future Logistics Living Lab workshop in April last year. SAP Research hosted the workshop to showcase a new prototype technology to Living Lab participants. 

Linfox, who was present at the workshop, expressed interest in the new technology – IdeaWall, a brainstorming mobile application that transforms any flat surface into a smartboard via an iPhone and a projector, in their business environment. The company is now one of the first companies to validate the prototype in their day-to-day business. 

Previously called Holodeck, IdeaWall is designed to supports participation, collaboration, brainstorming and business modelling across different locations.

The technology captures content from meetings using the mobile phone's photo camera. It then extracts objects visible on the whiteboard and distributes them to remote participants. The projector is used to project objects from other locations, so that every participant sees and works with the same content on their whiteboards. 

According to Linfox supply chain solutions group manager, Chris Hemstrom, IdeaWall gives Linfox the potential to brainstorm ideas between team members located at various sites. The company used it when initially scoping and determining the direction of projects, as well as for strategy development. It will also use IdeaWall for value stream mapping for projects that run across multiple sites. Linfox is currently trialling the use of IdeaWall on several projects. 

Container tracking solution

 Having identified a common interest in wanting to tracking container movement during a workshop last year, Hamburg Sud and Casella Wines initiated their own project to investigate container movement in Australia onshore, and from Australia to overseas.

Both companies wanted to analyse and understand container movements in order to reduce the movement of empty containers between ports and container parks. 

The two companies devised a project to test different sensor technologies for containers in different container environments to find a functional and accurate tracking solution.

The project is currently is in the first trial stage. This first phase comprises of a short supply chain from Australia to overseas, involving road, rail and sea transport, in which the tracking technology is to be tested. 

"At the moment it is at a stationary trial, but in the long term the companies will conduct a trial over the short haul supply chain, and then over a  longer supply chain from Australia to overseas to really extend the trial," Trunk says.

While, the Living Lab facilitated the commencement of this project, it is not involved in the project. Trunk says that this particular project is a good working example of the sorts of industry collaboration the Living Lab can bring about. 

Hamburg Sud and Casella Wines anticipate that the tracking technology they are developing will help reduce business costs, as well as carbon emission levels.