Autumn 2023

issue 43

Automated cargo handling arrives – probably
The recent launch by Speedcargo and Güdel of a robotic automated material handling solution for air freight, capable of handling cargo of varying sizes and weights, seems like a significant moment in the development of air cargo handling technology, promising to automate significant operations from acceptance to build-up. Due to the non-standard nature of most shipments, robotic automation has so far seen little success in air freight, beyond automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), and solutions for integrator parcel shipments and certain specific customers with regular-sized boxes.

Speedcargo has been working since 2015 on an automated pallet build-up and break-down solution that can handle cargo of varying sizes and weights, including odd-shaped cargo, and its partnership with materials handling specialist Güdel appears to offer a meaningful solution. In the Technology and Handling Update on page 48, senior technology and air freight specialists discuss the sector’s progress in digitalisation and whether it is now ready to move to the next stage – to physical automation rather than just information automation – based on a panel discussion at this year’s Air Cargo Europe event.

The participants agreed that air freight has made significant progress in the last five years in various aspects of the digitalisation journey, such as booking, capacity optimisation, and process optimisation – and information flows more generally – whereas physical automation has first required a combination of breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, plus wider adoption of digitalisation in the industry more generally.

The discussions highlight something common to many digitalisation and tech projects: on the technical level, the technology is available and tested; the challenge is “to make sure all the stakeholders are on the table and have the right mindset and work at the right speed”. This involves getting the buy-in from staff throughout an organisation, convincing them of the benefits of the technology and that it does not threaten their jobs.

Another closely linked element is the importance of timing. Speedcargo’s Suraj Nair notes that a process of education or “knowledge transfer” needs to be done before you can bring in the stakeholders – including “evangelising” about how useful a technology has been in other sectors. Nair says this understanding about the value and feasibility of robotic physical automation is not quite there yet in air cargo, but there appears to have been a significant rise this year of interest and more-concrete signs of wanting to bring in automation, or at least exploring it via small pilot projects.

Indeed, Speedcargo hopes to have some real-world examples of next-generation robotic automation of air cargo handling up and running in the next 12 months, probably. So, this looks like being an interesting area to watch. Probably.

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Featured in this issue

  • Tackling the air cargo congestion conundrum

    Since the pandemic, air freight representatives have found it easier to get an audience with US legislators as they seek to tackle airport freight bottlenecks. But forwarders remain on a tight leash w...

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  • Regions with significant potential

    The Middle East and Africa present attractive air cargo development opportunities, with Gulf countries building on their pivotal role in global markets and North Africa emerging as the world’s faste...

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  • Pharma dynamics

    An intensifying of partnerships has also been taking place on the pharma logistics side of the business, although that was always there to some extent. Stefan Winckelmann, director for Pharma & He...

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  • Navigating another new paradigm

    Forwarders and cargo-owners are yet to see a full return to ‘normal’ conditions following the Covid pandemic, with customers more wary of potential disruptions and keener to talk about resilience,...

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  • Fast but cost effective: air cargo’s elusive hybrid solution for e-commerce logistics

    Boris Hueske and Nikola Todic took over in February as joint managing directors of Heyworld, which began in 2017 as an internal e-commerce project within Lufthansa Cargo, but since 2019 has been a who...

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  • Emphasis on training rises as recruits look for career paths

    The cargo labour market has rebounded from the severe shortage of job seekers two years ago, although some shortages remain and the priorities of employers and applicants have changed, reports Ian Put...

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  • Collaboration and the future of online cargo booking

    Many companies are still restricted by legacy systems that prevent the full digitalisation of cargo booking and other management processes. Creating solutions that operators can easily integrate into ...

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  • Commendable progress in cargo infrastructure

    Digitalisation initiatives in the MENAT (Middle East, North Africa and Turkey) and Africa regions “have been making remarkable progress, revolutionising the air cargo industry”, highlights Saudia ...

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  • Changi Airport gears up

    Lim Ching Kiat, executive VP for air hub and cargo development at Changi Airport Group, feels that a CCS is key to the airport’s success in tapping into Asia’s long-term growth in the face of chal...

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  • Cargo connections and community collaborations

    Demand for increased visibility from customers and compliance authorities is accelerating the expansion of airport cargo community systems and projects, and changing the way cargo is handled at airpor...

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  • An ‘integrated, holistic’ solution for e-commerce air logistics

    Lufthansa Cargo and its ‘Heyworld’ and ‘CB Customs Broker’ subsidiaries are developing their capabilities and infrastructure at Frankfurt Airport to offer full-spectrum, end-to-end solutions f...

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