By Andreas Nettsträter | Fraunhofer IML – Whether it is fault prevention during stock-taking, more efficient receiptless deliveries or anticipatory maintenance: small and medium-sized companies from all over Germany are currently sounding out the potential for hybrid services in new transfer projects at the Innovationlab – under special consideration of human-technology interaction.

The range of the current transfer projects is broad: together with the researchers, companies are developing intelligent and networked solutions for maintenance, transport, intralogistics or trade. Despite the wide variety of projects the companies still have one common objective: they intend to exploit the potentials of digitisation in their daily business in a more specific and integrated way than before. In today’s networked economy, they are banking on the business of the future: hybrid services. This is characterised by a novel connection between hardware and software that merges in innovative business models – the »trademark« of the Innovationlab.

Each transfer project deals with a typical problem as an example, so logistics as a whole will benefit from the solutions.

When developing hybrid services, it is not only technological innovations which are significant. Work-related and organisation-related challenges are also in focus here. This is explicitly about the role of people and their interfaces with technical systems, because in future, humans will interact more and more frequently and more and more intensively with networked machines. People will experience machines as »colleagues« via intelligent devices like data glasses or tablets. Assistance systems, smart devices and human-technology interaction also play a significant role in the current transfer projects at the Innovationlab. (Verlinkung Einseiter)

In one project being carried out in the field of transport, an innovative system is being implemented to forecast truck waiting times at logistic hubs. The concept is based on an adaptive prognosis model and the integration of modern concepts of artificial intelligence (AI) in established mathematical prognosis approaches for business applications. The prognosis is illustrated in a modern web interface. Having a good prognosis for waiting times enables the employees at hauliers and their drivers to circumvent peak load situations or to include them in their planning. In another project about the receiptless supply of packages, employees will be able to read information about deliveries, addressees, etc. securely by means of smart devices which will provide them with significant support as they carry out their daily tasks.

Advantages and disadvantages for humans in focus

Augmented reality technology offers a new form of human-technology interaction. Appropriate solutions are also being investigated at the Innovationlab. In the context of the transfer projects, for example, an application for data glasses is being developed and tested for the retail trade that aims to help employees in the branches to do the stocktaking or move goods according to specific instructions. Virtual contents supplement the real world and simplify registration, accounting and moving goods for the employee. A guided process like this helps us to avoid mistakes and to fill any documentation gaps. The advantages and disadvantages of the new technologies for humans will also be explicitly investigated in this and the other projects.

Each project helps to solve a specific problem for each respective company. However, the problems are typical examples within logistics and the individual sub-sectors, so other logistics companies can also benefit from the results. In a project in the field of maintenance, a checklist is being designed for the development of digital hybrid business models for mechanical and plant engineering. A retail project will also lead to fundamental recommendations for action concerning the implementation of augmented reality in the branches. In another project within the scope of intralogistics, an ergonomic and adaptive working place is being developed for the goods-in and goods-out areas that is initially being deployed for training purposes but will later be transformed into an open platform for industrial applications.

Components for sustainable digitisation

All developments in the transfer projects consider themselves to be components in a sustainable digitisation strategy for logistics companies. This sustainability is a result of the fact that the technologies underlying the new services are checked for their »compatibility« with humans.

November 2017

About the author

Andreas Nettsträter, Department of Strategic Cooperation and Networks at Fraunhofer IML, is responsible for network management and knowledge transfer in the Innovationlab.