Interview Uwe Karrenberg: “The people and the process are our major focus in digitalisation.”

Uwe Karrenberg, the Managing Director of LOXX Lagerlogistik in Gelsenkirchen, which has been part of the Rhenus Group since 2020, is very well-informed about digitalising logistics processes. He has been managing the Processes and Development Team at Rhenus for several years and has analysed the digitalisation potential at business sites. He talks in the interview about the potential that he believes can still be exploited in logistics.

Editorial department: What opportunities does the digitalisation of logistics processes offer?

Uwe Karrenberg: Digitalisation opens up the opportunity of organising processes more efficiently and more effectively. Making full use of the space inside trucks is a major challenge for freight forwarders because empty runs don’t make ecological or economic sense. Online freight marketplaces are one digital solution to this problem. Freight forwarders themselves can look for suitable consignments there because the companies enter their incomplete transport operations directly in the portal. This means that fewer resources, e.g. employees, are required to plan trips and these resources can then be used in other places, e.g. to provide more extensive customer support. One important aspect also involves the increasing transparency of processes, for instance, through tools such as Track & Trace – and our customers benefit from this, too.

Editorial department: What are the digital challenges that the world of logistics is facing at the moment with a view to warehouses?

Uwe Karrenberg: Uwe Karrenberg: One of the greatest challenges in a warehouse will be the increasing volumes of freight for transportation, which is already being forecast. As we cannot build new warehouses at short notice, we have to make better use of our existing resources. If we have dynamic organisational procedures in our warehouses, like the ones we have developed in many places at Rhenus, we can respond to fluctuations in volumes in a flexible manner. We’ve just recently modified the warehouse in Gelsenkirchen and are using the transport management system that already existed for this. The digitalised processes support us in our advance planning work and now provide us with extensive data. By intelligently analysing this data, we can, for example, significantly improve our predictions about transport volumes.

Digitalisation will also help us to continue optimising our business and make much better use of our warehouse capacities during the next few years. We’ve achieved optimisation of 30 per cent at LOXX this year, e.g. by switching to digitalised warehouse processes, we can accommodate 30 – 50 per cent more volume and therefore have greater capacity for other consignments.

Editorial department: You’ve been Head of the Processes and Development Team at Rhenus Road Freight up until now. Which projects have you already been able to implement in the field of digitalisation?

Uwe Karrenberg: My team and I analysed the digitalisation potential of processes. At the business site in Dietzenbach, for example, we had to find out whether capacities were sufficient for joining a new national break bulk cargo network. To achieve this, we analysed the local traffic area: ranging from the routes taken by trucks to organising processes in a warehouse. You always need to have the complete process in your sights when conducting this kind of analysis: what is introduced into the process, what is done within the process itself and what product emerges from the process? Using the results of our analysis, we were able to develop and introduce a dynamic storage space concept for generating adequate capacity to successfully join the break bulk cargo network.

Editorial department: Are you prepared to risk making a prediction about the future: what will the warehouses in the Rhenus Group look like in ten years’ time and will there only be autonomous industrial trucks operating in them?

Uwe Karrenberg: I don’t believe that will be the case for us in our break bulk cargo business. We’ll continue to focus on our core business, that is to say, loading and unloading vehicles. It will be necessary to continue loading the trucks manually because of the varied structure of the goods. It’s true that there are some automated systems on the market which can process standardised consignments, but most systems don’t work very efficiently at the moment and are still very expensive, too. We also want to continue offering our customers flexible and individual solutions. When it comes to third-party logistics, that is to say, transport-related warehousing at our handling centres, I imagine, however, that this might be feasible. We’ll probably want to test autonomous driving with a high-bay forklift for internal logistics at Rhenus Road Deutschland next year. There are naturally many safety regulations that have to be complied with. That’s why we’re adopting a cautious approach and will initially work with handover zones so that there is as little contact between people and machines as possible. During the next stage, the industrial transport trucks, which move goods from one building to the next for loading, could be partly replaced by autonomous industrial trucks.

Editorial department: What role do the employees play in digitalisation?

Uwe Karrenberg: The people and the process are our major focus in digitalisation because people define the process, not machines. And to optimise processes, we also need the trust and the creativity of our employees, otherwise we couldn’t reorganise processes at all. That’s why the topic of change management is very important to me. In my view, a strong team, with the varied, distinctive skills of the individual members, is the key to success in any digitalisation process that’s required. One of the major success factors is ultimately further training. Providing further skills for our employees, particularly in the field of digitalisation and modern technologies, is a key to the future. As a result, we’ll also be able to continue to successfully resolve challenges, which are becoming increasingly complex, on behalf of our customers.