by Denise Holfeld and Axel Simroth, Fraunhofer IVI

SYNCHRO-NET is an EU Horizon 2020 funded research project that is developing a powerful and innovative synchro-modal supply chain platform. Based on three demonstrators SYNCHRO-NET will show that a cloud-based solution can support the deployment and application of the synchro-modality concept, guaranteeing cost-effective robust solutions that de-stress the supply chain to reduce emissions and costs for logistics operations while simultaneously increasing reliability and service levels for logistics users.

Synchro-modality is a novel paradigm in logistics management which focusses on highly flexible transport operations: In a synchro-modal scenario the shipper agrees with the logistics service provider (LSP) on the delivery of products at specified costs, quality and sustainability, but leaves the decision on how to deliver according to these specifications to the LSP. This freedom gives the LSP the possibility to deploy different modes of transportation flexibly. The decision to switch to different modes of transportation may depend on actual circumstances such as traffic information or availability of resources. The core of the SYNCHRO-NET solution will be an integrated optimisation and simulation platform, incorporating: real-time synchro-modal logistics optimisation; smart steaming ship simulation and control systems; synchro-modal risk/benefit analysis modelling; dynamic stakeholder impact assessment solution; and a synchro-operability communications and governance architecture, in order to enable such an approach. Each module in itself represents a massive step forward compared to the current state of the art. The key innovation, however, will be the integration of these modules into a collaborative platform that ensures that all aspects of the supply chain are included.

Figure 1: the Synchro-Net concept.
Figure 1: the Synchro-Net concept.

Furthermore SYNCHRO-NET will introduce synchro-collaborative business models that allow (often sceptical) logistics operators to share economic and efficiency benefits, releasing commercially sensitive data in a controlled way without eroding their competitive advantage. For example, with a single press of a button, the user will be able to see how the consequences of a particular smart steaming strategy affects: ship bunker fuel usage AND multimodal hinterland logistics AND service level risk AND stakeholder perception AND end-to-end costs AND total emissions AND congestion in key nodes/corridors, etc. i.e. the decisions will be taken based on the global picture. SYNCHRO-NET will also provide the operational capability needed to manage the complexities of a synchro-modal supply chain. Thus, when the preferred strategy has been identified, SYNCHRO-NET will allow it to be implemented by providing powerful real-time multimodal logistics scheduling, supply chain optimization and ship scheduling/routing systems, governed by enterprise-collaborative business models.

Perhaps the most important output of SYNCHRO-NET will be the demonstration that steaming, coupled with synchro-modal logistics optimisation delivers amazing benefits to all stakeholders in the supply chain: massive reduction in emissions for shipping and land-based transport due to modal shift to greener modes and the optimized planning processes leading to a reduction in empty kilometres for trucks and fewer wasted repositioning movements.

This will lead to lower costs for ALL stakeholders – shipping companies and logistics operators will benefit from massive reduction in fuel usage, faster turnaround times in ports and terminals and increased resource utilization/efficiency. Customers and end users will have greater control of their supply chain, leading to more reliable replenishment activity and therefore reduced safety stocks and expensive warehousing. Authorities and governmental organizations will benefit from a smoother, more controlled flow of goods through busy terminals, and reduction of congestion on major roads, thus maximizing the use of current infrastructure and making the resourcing of vital activities such as import/export control, policing and border security less costly.

With a specific attitude to risk, three modules work in an integrated manner to determine a concrete door-to-door route for a user. The ‘Synchro-modal Real-time Optimization’ module uses “classical” objective values like costs, punctuality, resource utilization etc. to determine a solution. This is offset by a solution generated by the ‘Supply Chain De-stress’ module, which creates reliability and introduces flexibility into solutions, e.g. by flattening peaks in resource usage, including buffers in scheduling etc. For this purpose, extended objectives are necessary. In addition to monetary objectives, effectiveness-driven goals should be included, such as customer satisfaction and supplier reliability. The ‘Synchro-modal Supply Chain Risk Analysis’ module is intended to balance both types of objective functions depending on the risk attitude of the user. This module is to be developed as meta-process [1] with novel risk measures for complex supply chains [2].

SYNCHRO-NET had its kick-off in June 2015 and will last for three and a half years. It is co-funded under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union and brings together an industry-driven group of companies and research organizations, involving top stakeholders and developers from 10 countries and 20 organizations. The consortium currently carries out a requirements analysis from the perspective of all stakeholders in the smart steaming synchro-modal supply chain.


[1] D. Holfeld, A. Simroth: “Monte Carlo Rollout Method for Optimization under Uncertainty”, 15th International Conference on Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering Computing CC 2015, Prague, Czech Republic, September 1-4, 2015
[2] I. Heckmann, T. Comes, S. Nickel: “A critical review on supply chain risk – definition, measure and modeling”, OMEGA Volume 52, p. 119-132, 2015

Please contact:
Denise Holfeld, Axel Simroth
Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI
Tel: +49 351 4640 651
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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