Freight Systems Design

A key focus of the Freight Systems Design thread is moving the world of freight movement from emissions-intense movements across lowly-connected dedicated point-to-point and hub-and-spoke freight systems toward low-emissions movements across resilient hyperconnected freight systems in line with the emerging Physical Internet introduced by Professor Montreuil.

Large-scale simulation and optimization experiments have resulted in potentiality assessment of overall induced greenhouse gas emission reductions of 20-30% with hyperconnected transportation, 20-30% with hyperconnected distribution, and 40-60% combined hyperconnected transportation and distribution, without accounting for breakthroughs in automation and robotization, and in vehicle energy efficiency and emission reduction. They achieve such high performance while offering better service capability, better quality of life for operators (truckers, handlers, etc.), better resilience, and better compatibility with the e-commerce induced omnichannel supply chains.

In various phases of investigation, experimentation, and adoption across the world, this emerging type of system enables seamless open asset sharing and flow consolidation across supply through standardized encapsulation, modularization, protocols, and interfaces.  Ultimately, it relies on interconnected mesh networks with modular carriers flowing freight in modular containers between open-access logistics hubs and deployment centers distributed in multiple tiers across the territory. Both the users of the freight systems, and those who provide the services enacting the freight systems, are leveraging global monitoring systems for ubiquitous tracking and tracing, and overall supply chain visibility; open digital transactional platforms; smart data-driven analytics, optimization, and simulation capabilities supporting operational, tactical, and strategic decisions.

Key assets of hyperconnected freight systems include logistic hub, deployment centers, modular containers, and modular carriers.

  • Logistic hubs act as proximity origin-destination and longer-haul inter-hub connections. They enable seamless, efficient, fast and safe decoupling, transshipment, crossdocking, and consolidation. They enable short circuits getting truckers back home daily if they so desire. They enable to concurrently perform energy fueling or battery swapping/charging.
  • Deployment centers allow to pre-position short-stay goods near markets to enable convenient customer delivery with minimal distance, time, and emissions. Their open access allows highly distributed deployment as pertinent, with much more capability than achievable by individual companies or small groups of companies. They alternatively enable locating long-stay anticipatory, smoothing, and stockpiling inventory in locations inducing low emissions.
  • Modular containers act as private nests for goods in open public spaces, notably carriers and facilities. They are openly flowing across multi-party supply chains, industries, and territories. From small tote size to maritime intermodal container size, they shape an evolution from the cases and pallets, extending and improving containerization to encompass packaging, handling, and transport containers. They are easy to handle, store, condition, and transport; they are smart and connected; and they are eco-friendly, being light, reusable, recyclable, and having a minimal off-service footprint.
  • Modular carriers must be well adapted to modular goods containerization, seamless multi-modal inter-hub operations. Each carrier is to ease loading, transporting, and unloading containerized multi-party freight; maximizing space utilization and freight protection; and interconnecting with other modes. Fleets should allow adapting to shipping volume and weight, through different carrier sizes, such as different combinations of tractors and trailers.

This exemplifies the type of freight systems design research, innovation, implementation, and adoption that is required to meet the net-zero freight systems challenge. This enables fast successes paving the way to a roadmap of more transformative and impactful actions. Even though applicable generically across the world, our research program is anchored in the US Southeast that has a strong potential for worldwide leadership in this endeavor.

The Freight Systems we address in this program are those associated with all physical goods movement at all levels, yet with a focused emphasis:

  • Global: emphasis on import/ export oriented intercontinental flows;
  • Continental: emphasis on the USA, connections with Canada and Mexico;
  • Regional: emphasis on US Southeast, its key industries & inter-region connections;
  • Facility: emphasis on logistic hubs, ports, and deployment centers.