"Imagine that! It never occurred to me to think of space as the thing that was moving!"

A new approach to Green Last Mile Delivery services using Digital Twins
December 14, 2023 by
"Imagine that! It never occurred to me to think of space as the thing that was moving!"
Digital Alfa Nordic AB, Jay Melia
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The words of Montgomery Scott in Star Trek 2009.  Many great innovations have been inspired by works of science fiction. It is said that Cellphones took their inspiration from Star Trek communicators. Maybe that's true, maybe not. And Tricorders? We will save that one for another post, but that is true and we are very nearly there!

I'm sure you will think that Green Last Mile Delivery doesn't sound like a likely candidate to be inspired by the lofty ideals of the Star Trek universe, but you would be wrong. Most delivery vehicles you see on the street follow the same predetermined routes or "milk rounds", and for much of the journey the vehicle is barely loaded. So space really is the thing that is moving most of the time.

To achieve green targets being set by the EU we need to ensure that as little energy as possible is expended moving empty vehicles around. Good quality, dynamic route planning helps a lot. Using the information about target addresses a route can be planned that uses less energy, is taken when roads are less busy and so on. However, we still have multiple vehicles that are operated for different suppliers all moving part loads and lots of space while pumping out toxic diesel fumes where people live.

Digital Alfa were approached by a customer to help them develop Smart Vehicle technology that would allow them to monitor how their delivery fleet was being utilised and help them understand how to maximise operational use of their vehicles with minimal environmental impact. We looked at manufacturing vehicles, and we looked at creating digital twin models of those vehicles to track that impact. The primary objective was to help the customer become more proficient at maintenance and managing component lifecycles to achieve maximum efficiency and meet the targets they were set. Coupled with the dynamic routing and other fleet management technology this enables them to prove they adhere to their customers' targets, which is a definite step in the right direction.  However, it does not change the direction of travel for Green Last Mile Delivery (GLaD). We needed something more to satisfy the longer term green demands of our customer's customers, which is to drive change not simply to measure compliance.

Many vendors but no one offers a complete solution to the challenges

1. EV's - Low level of innovation regarding logistics in micro ECVs. They are crude and slow and only really address emissions targets. 

2. Route-planning software is good at planing routes to optimise emissions but is unaware of what it is moving so it just doe the milk round. AI and Machine Learning is applied to historic data. but because it is not dynamic it also struggles with load variance.

3. Logistics Providers have been focussed on large scale aggregation for inter-city shipping, not last-mile which impacts Smart City and urban environmental targets. This is generally not profitable for them.

And this is where Scotty comes in. We realised that the answer was to address the problem in the context of the movement and use of space, not the movement of vehicles. We created a digital twin of the cargo container, be that a van or a smart cargo box, and linked it to GIS models of the target delivery areas. We then added virtual micro hubs to be used as package aggregation sites that allowed the inter-city carriers to hand off local urban delivery services to specialist and niche logistics companies. And we then overlaid candidate vehicle data and even driver information to create a complete virtual model of the delivery environment.

Using a combination of all of this realtime, static and derived data we were able to simulate and conduct what-if scenarios to work out how to get the best balance between environment, efficiency, time and cost parameters for the load, not just the vehicle. 

Using our technology our customers can ensure that all last mile delivery vehicles are right sized and match a city's green targets, are routed point to point to drop the most energy consuming heavy items first, and they go only where needed. We also update the models in real-time, paving the way for pickup and drop-off in the same vehicle. Last mile and first mile? That's Logic Mile.

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