In the transport and logistics sector, dispatchers continuously need to make complex decisions based on a variety of real-time information. If one truck is stuck in traffic, they often need to re-organize the entire schedule: on short notice, they need to find another truck that meets the right requirements, reschedule appointments and inform clients about the changes, etc. For this planning process, dispatchers already rely on a variety of digital applications and tools.
But the problem is that these applications – ranging from sensors and location trackers to order and maintenance management tools – are not integrated with each other. There is no back-end that connects them. As a consequence, dispatchers spend much of their time simply checking, combining and bundling data from different sources.
Valentin Carlan (Sales Manager): “DigiTrans – a spin-off of the University of Antwerp and imec – offers a uniform middleware solution that connects to any data source or sensor. Unlike existing alternatives, we do not require clients to buy an entirely new suite of applications. Our solution simply places an extra layer on top of their existing tools, integrating all information. This layer offers easy opportunities to connect data to flexible decisions algorithms that continuously look for optimization possibilities. And if – in a later stage – they want to add a new functionality or application, DigiTrans can easily adapt the connectors without having to redesign the entire system. This flexibility is our most important competitive edge.”
Though the solution may seem simple, it can save companies a considerable amount of money. It is estimated that a middle-size transport company, with a fleet size up to 300 trucks, spends around EUR 150.000 a year only on manual bundling of data for day-to-day planning. On top of this, they might also face extra costs generated by inefficient planning, e.g. fines, not being aware of the status of their assets or missing optimization opportunities.
Paving the Way for Intelligent Decision-Making Support
In 2017, the team behind DigiTrans won the Volvo Trucks Hackaton with a dynamic planning tool that proposes changes to the truck’s schedule based on real-time data.
Thomas Huybrechts (founder): “After the hackaton, we started a one-year research project to look into the market value of our idea. We also joined forces with experts from the logistics sector to really understand what transport companies need. In this way, we discovered that most problems are actually located at an earlier stage. Intelligent planning support is only possible once you’ve collected a large amount of accurate and uniform data. That’s why – with DigiTrans – we decided to focus on developing a uniform middleware solution first.”
By creating a pool of uniform data gathered from several sources, DigiTrans also aims to pave the way for AI-enabled logistics support. At the moment, they’ve already set up trials to test algorithms that suggest potential actions. For instance, if one truck is unexpectedly delayed, the system can automatically provide a list of other trucks that meet the same requirements and are likely to be available at the time. In a next stage, the system could perhaps even make fully autonomous decisions. As the decision-making process in the transport sector is so complex, it is unlikely that technology will replace human dispatchers in the near future, but solutions like DigiTrans could definitely optimize the process and help dispatchers manage information better to decrease their workload.