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Indeed, it will not only optimize entire supply chain ecosystems but also reshape and reengineer them. Many already believe that freight exchange platforms, dedicated to maximizing payload efficiency and reducing empty miles, have a role to play in making this vision a reality.
Zach Zacharia, an associate professor of supply chain management at Lehigh University, is part of a team developing a handbook on the physical Internet. He says, “I believe that collaborative logistics platforms demonstrate and validate the need for the physical Internet. In many ways, they are forerunners to it. That is not to say that freight exchanges will cease to exist. On the contrary, as technology advances, the most innovative freight exchange platforms could help mold the interconnected and collaborative freight landscapes of tomorrow. If they succeed, this will ultimately lead to more efficient, effective and sustainable freight supply chains.”
Zacharia stresses that the seismic change, which some predict the physical Internet will bring, will not happen overnight. “It is quite a nebulous and fluid area of research at present,” he says. “It is important to note that we won’t see the benefits in a single wave. Rather, its impact will be felt in smaller ripples that will become more powerful over time.”
The Alliance for Logistics Integration through Collaboration in Europe (ALICE), a platform funded by the European Community, shares this view. ALICE, which is currently conducting research on the physical Internet, projects that 2020 will yield the “full alignment of economic, social, environmental and security goals.” Key infrastructure such as “fully operating open logistics networks,” however, won’t be fully functional until at least the 2040s.
In the following Q&A, Zacharia addresses some key questions on collaborative logistics’ role in the emergence of the physical Internet.
When the physical Internet begins to effect real change, how will it — and the collaborative logistics platforms it supports — positively impact the freight industry?
Zacharia: By 2050, the physical Internet will change the way we think about the movement of freight. Data-centric freight exchanges and intelligent multimodal cross-docking hubs will allow haulers to move cargo effortlessly by road, rail, sea and air and seamlessly change carrier, or even transport mode, in real time. How? When the freight exchange calculates a potential delay, or simply uncovers a quicker or cheaper way of getting goods to market, it will automatically re-route the consignment. This level of visibility will be possible with the core foundations of the physical Internet in place.
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