Technical and Process Innovations in Logistics: Opportunities, Barriers and Best Practices

Technical and Process Innovations in Logistics: Opportunities, Barriers and Best Practices


R Gevaers, E Van de Voorde, T Vanelslander, University of Antwerp, BE


This paper deals with the assessment of innovative concepts in transport and logistics on their performance effects. The hypothesis that at least a number of breakthrough projects can be identified, is confirmed.


Transport and logistics are undergoing constant and increasingly paceful changes: horizontal as well as vertical integration are changing the market structure, globalization calls not only on production but also on logistics operators to follow in their services, and the importance of reliable logistics services increases while the conditions get more difficult through for instance congestion. In parallel, and partly in answer to the previous issues, a number of technological developments are constantly leading to improved sector capabilities, and a number of process innovations are re-shaping the way logistics business is done.

The aim of this paper is to identify the innovations, technical as well as process-related, that have the largest positive impact on logistics performance. To that purpose, a scan is made of a wide array of innovations. It turns out that innovations can be found in the entire chain, and in various transport modes that are part of it. For example, innovations are found in road transport, inland navigation, air and maritime transport, and also in for instance warehousing. The innovative character of a certain application in a certain section of a chain can also stem from the fact that the concept was applied before in other contexts, but not in that particular section. That is the case for GPS and GIS applications. The main research hypothesis states that at least a number of promising concepts can be identified that, based upon preliminary analysis, have benefits that offset the costs, and that are worth being investigated further.

The innovative concepts are first defined. It turns out that overlap in the concepts cannot always be avoided. Green logistics for instance is core, and interferes with among others reverse logistics, waste logistics and last-mile logistics. The latter among each other also have commonalities.

Second, examples are given of situations in which the innovative concepts have been applied, successfully as well as unsuccessfully. The examples confirm the mutual interference that exists among innovative concepts. Moreover, it is striking that some innovations, when implemented in isolation, are detrimental rather than beneficial to logistics performance, unless they are supplemented by other innovative concepts, so that synergetic effects arise. Implementing security for instance turns out to be very resource-consuming compared to the benefits gained, unless technologies like GPS and RFID limit the efforts to be raised.

Third, from the best and worse practices of innovation in logistics, lessons are drawn with respect to opportunities and barriers. Among the opportunities, some are tied in with producers? or consumers? service requests, for instance where defective products are to be re-collected. Others are linked to increasing environmental awareness: waste and end-of-life products are often re-collected, so that they can be demolished or recycled in a professional way, with less damage to the environment. Even others are a mere effect of government legislation. EU legislation for example requests all online or postal command shippers to take back in all unsatisfactory sales.

Fourth, an overall assessment is made and policy conclusions are drawn focusing on the concepts which have the highest merit from being further analyzed in detail, and eventually being implemented with government support. Among them, mainly process innovation concepts are found: green logistics, waste logistics, reverse logistics and last-mile logistics are the most prominent ones. An exception is inland navigation, which features a number of technological innovations that are groundbreaking and uncovered so far. Therefore, the research hypothesis is confirmed: innovation in logistics clearly has a number of niches which are worthwhile elaborating further.


Association for European Transport