Thousands of employees of the DACHSER logistics network constantly ensure the reliable operation of supply chains for their customers. Most of these employees work in transit terminals, in the very heart of logistics. The vast majority of cargo handling operations are performed manually: unloading trucks, scanning goods, transporting pallets to a terminal for temporary storage or loading them directly onto another truck. It is a constant dynamic flow.

The work includes good and well-functioning practices. However, in the field of occupational ergonomics, there is always the potential for improvement and simplification for employees. This usually requires measurement-based process analysis. Unfortunately, many such analyzes are not objective. In fact, the traditional methods of analysis that are commonly used have a number of shortcomings.

Nor does it suit everyone when someone is watching you at work. However, some conventional analytical methods use this as a tool. Employees then consciously or unconsciously try to ensure that they do everything right and as quickly as possible. Although this approach yields results and provides important information on how the process works and where there is room for improvement, it also means that data collection is not only subjective but also time consuming.

That's why DACHSER has set out to find new solutions to optimize work efficiency and ergonomics, and thus the quality of load handling. These solutions were found by a young company from Dortmund. In October 2017, three employees of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, IML, joined forces to form MotionMiners. This start-up has been working independently of the Fraunhofer Institute since the summer of 2019.

Management of development projects

In the search for innovative solutions, DACHSER has long been dedicated to start-up logistics companies. The DACHSER Enterprise Laboratory is working closely with the Fraunhofer IML Institute in Dortmund to find research and development projects that could move the DACHSER network forward. These projects include everything related to digital technologies such as data science, artificial intelligence, real-time positioning, 5G mobile communications, connected devices (Internet of Things), autonomous vehicles and adaptive storage systems.

That's why DACHSER found out about MotionMiners. This young company initially focused on optimizing the search for potential in warehouses. In cooperation with DACHSER, its development has expanded to include cargo handling for the forwarding industry.

MotionMiners provides technology that facilitates the collection of real data from workflows in a given environment without the need to collect employee data. In practice, it looks like this: in recent months, measurements have been made at five German DACHSER sites using mobile sensors, the so-called wearables that collect anonymized data. Employees had these sensors either on their wrists or attached to clothing. These motion sensors are typically used primarily for sports activities, but the founders of MotionMiners use their automatic activity detection to optimize intralogistics.

In conjunction with stationary sensors located in the terminal or on shelves, they record current procedures. This allowed the company to collect data on cargo handling activities such as loading and unloading, scanning and transporting pallets to the terminal. In addition to the time of these processes, the sensors also detect unhealthy and strenuous movements.

Prior to the start of data collection, the project was coordinated in detail with the General Staff's IT Committee. Employee participation was voluntary and the anonymised data obtained were subsequently evaluated. This allowed employees to work naturally. "Convincing employees to get involved was no problem," says Steffen Faul, operations manager of the transit terminal in Langenau, one of the measuring points. Sensor systems were not annoying to humans. "The advantage is that we can objectively record all daily operations and all unforeseen events," explains Mauritius Herden, head of the production process team at DACHSER Food Logistics, who is responsible for the entire project. "The data obtained gives us a whole new level of transparency that we did not expect before," adds Cornelius John, head of the production optimization team at DACHSER's headquarters in Kempten.

Another interesting aspect is the thermal maps. The terminal plans show which routes employees use particularly often and where there are bottlenecks and long waits. This fact can be analyzed immediately and ideally eliminated.

By the end of December 2020, 1,800 hours of data had been collected at five locations. Cornelius John summed up: "Our original goal was to create transparency in what time frames of the process we are talking about at all." in their daily work. For Steffen Faul, who handles cargo handling in Langenau, this is a clear advantage. "We were able to measure the actual workload of employees, which ideally allows us to prevent absences due to illness or even an occupational disease."

Whereas previously the recommendations for the branch were rather based on feelings or random checks, reliable and objective data are now available. "In the future, we will be able to develop best practices and offer the best possible standards," says Cornelius John.

The pilot project lasted a whole year and now continues in other places. In the future, the aim is to collect data at various locations in Germany and elsewhere and, where appropriate, to extend the data collection to other warehousing processes and activities. "In the coming years, we plan to gradually expand measurements in the DACHSER network," says Cornelius John. The foul also hopes to be able to repeat the measurements where they have already been taken. "Challenges change over time. That is why I am clearly in favor of measuring repeatedly, even here, when handling cargo in Langenau. "

After all, it's about getting customers out of that data. "At the moment, they benefit from greater transparency in cargo handling," adds Cornelius John, "because it provides us with a basis for optimizing production processes, which ultimately allows us to provide even better services."