The logistics industry is undergoing fundamental transformation due to various reasons primarily due to increased customer expectations and rise of new technology. Originating from Professor Benoit Montreuil in 2006, this ground-breaking concept of Physical Internet is revolutionizing current models of logistics, writes Dr P Ravikumar, Associate Director, C-DAC Thiruvananthapuram, who spoke at the session on Emerging Technologies at the Conference during Smart Mobility 2018
Physical Internet’ by itself is not a technology – it is an innovative concept making use of the emerging technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), Cyber Physical Systems (CPS), Robotics, Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Advanced Analytics Algorithm, Big Data Analysis, etc. and, the concept of Digital Internet for moving physical objects from one place to another in a faster and more cost-effective. In logistics, the Physical Internet is an open global logistics system founded on physical, digital, and operational interconnectivity, through encapsulation, interfaces and protocols (Wikipedia). The logistics shall have rapid response capability having minimum variance and minimum inventory expense and shall be capable of handling consolidated shipments of high quality. It shall also support product life cycle including reverse logistics.
As per Montreuil, the Physical Internet (PI) aims to enable an efficient and sustainable Logistics Web of seamlessly interconnected physical, digital, human, organizational and social agents and networks for transporting objects as easy as the data packets are transported in Digital Internet. The logistics web shall serve needs for the mobility of physical entities and distributing physical objects through a territory to serve a market, and a set of clients for these objects. It shall also serve the need for realizing physical objects (manufacturing, production, assembly, finishing, personalization, retrofitting, etc.), supply (acquiring, buying and securing access to materials, parts, assemblies, products, systems, etc.) and serve the need for physical objects usage.
Data analytics is widely used in PI for reducing costs by driving down excessive inventory – both staged and in-transit, proactively responding to inbound and outbound events and sharing assets, providing real-time or near real-time insights for timely decision making through fusing multiple data sources and integrating business judgement and complex calculations. Large scale analysis of data is used to reduce inconsistencies and produce reports for quick decision making. Usage of Internet of Things (IoT) which is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity enables these things to connect and exchange data, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems.
Usage of IoT and computerbased systems results in efficiency improvements, economic benefits, and reduced human exertions. IoT technologies is also used to enhance manufacturing and industrial processes by incorporating machine learning and big data technologies to harness the sensor data, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and automation technologies. Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are integrations of computation, networking, and physical processes. They integrate the dynamics of the physical processes with those of the software and networking, providing abstractions and modelling, design, and analysis techniques for the integrated whole.
In CPS, embedded computers and networks monitor and control the physical processes, with feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. The role of robotics is highly important in the logistics and manufacturing industry. The market is ready for the use of logistic robots to work in conjunction with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) involved in packaging, picking, shipping, delivery etc.
Since Physical Internet is a global system it needs to be hyper-connected for the mobility of physical entities seamlessly within the PI area across the globe. The interconnectivity layers are Digital, Physical, Operational, Business, Legal and Interpersonal. The Physical Internet can be compared with the digital internet for its operation. In digital internet, the data is encapsulated into packets and transported across the world-wide network using standard interfaces and protocols. The data packets travel through various medium (air, copper, fibre, etc.) and equipment (Switches, Routers, Server, Computer, etc.), and finally reach the destination. Similarly, in PI, the physical entities are encapsulated in standard containers/ boxes/pods and transported through a myriad of routes, logistic centres, open cross docking hubs and modes, and finally they reach the destinations in a fast, economical, safe, and reliable way.
With PI, the current practice of engaging dedicated assets and flows will be replaced by flow consolidated through interhub transporters, improving the operational cost and efficiency multifold.
The PI containers are designed to make them easy to handle, store, transport, seal, interlock, couple, load, unload, construct and dismantle. This is achieved using standard fixtures, standard size and even standardized mechanical strength. The containers, boxes and pods use unique international identification to ensure traceability through smart tags. These smart tags enable use of robotics, artificial intelligence and computers to quickly transport the physical entity through open cross docking hubs and collaborative routing centres. Cross docking, routing, packing, loading, transporting, etc. make use of IoT, robotics, data analytics, cyber physical systems, augmented reality, and the like. Standard protocols are defined at every level including the business network.
Initiatives are already on for the implementation of physical internet by many countries including the US and Australia. Fully functional and operating open logistics networks are expected by the year 2040 and the fully functional Physical Internet by the year 2050.