The BPW Innovation Lab
A manufacturer of truck trailer axles becomes a digital leader in the field of logistics – a story that could only be possible through digital transformation. But who is writing this story? And more importantly: for what reason? Marcus Sassenrath regards change as one of the most normal things in life, especially for a company with a 120-year long history. Change competence, according to the CDO, is the deciding success factor of the process of digitalisation.
Currently the digitalisation strategist of BPW, together with a team of other experts, is working in the new internal Innovation Lab on the ‘Internet of Transport’ – a realisation of a vision in the field of future logistics. In partnership together with both long-standing and new clients, entirely new business models will be formed which will help lead BPW Bergische Achsen into a new chapter of their story.
In an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global, Marcus Sassenrath provides detailed insights into the company’s digital strategies and explains why BPW can already be regarded as a “digital champion”.
Lüneburg, near Hamburg, Germany
Responsibility for transported goods
Since 1898, BPW Bergische Achsen has been developing and producing chassis systems for trailers of utility vehicles at their headquarters in North Rhine-Westphalia. Internationally represented through subsidiaries, this globally active supplier decided to focus on digital processes and the company strategy has continued to advance. “By now, the cargo space of the trailer has become the focus point at BPW. After all, this is the main purpose of trailer logistics: transporting goods from A to B safely and efficiently,” says Marcus Sassenrath. This transport of goods has been analysed in detail over the past three years – resulting in a focus on the customer as well as an extended service portfolio of BPW.
“We want to individualise our offers further for the customers that are in contact with automotive manufacturers. Those are vehicle operators or, rather, shipping and forwarding companies. These companies are the ones who require specialisation of our components and axles when buying a new vehicle.” Approximately eight and a half years ago, the customer spectrum was broadened further to include senders and recipients of the cargo that is transported via BPW-outfitted trailers. In 2018, BPW aims to present their first digital solution for the transport process that will benefit both senders and recipients as well as shipping companies.
The phoenix rises from the ashes – destruction as a concept
What is the difference between BPW and their competitors? “We looked at destructive concepts and analysed how they infiltrate and alter company-internal value-added chains. The Airbnb platform is an example of a new market participant infiltrating an existing value-added chain – the booking process between end customer and provider – and creating an entirely new business model. New ideas grow on the basis of the tried and true. “The core of our business – the development and production of chassis systems and components for utility vehicles – remains the same. Here, we also aim for innovation: The digitalisation of our products, for example through the integration of sensor technology, will further expand BPW’s portfolio,” says Sassenrath.
The ‘Internet of Transport’ opens up new customer groups
Similar to the changes in industrial production envisioned by Industry 4.0, Marcus Sassenrath predicts that logistics is also facing extensive changes. Digitalisation plays an important role in the rearrangement of concepts and processes. So far, BPW has predominantly focused on the development and production of innovative products and components. The ‘transport participants’ – the senders and recipients of the cargo – are an entirely new group of customers for BPW. After all, they issue the shipment request and they want to know what is happening regarding their cargo.
Eight years ago, in order to find out the needs of this customer group, BPW initiated the BPW Innovation Lab. “Our vision here is to make use of the IoT – not in the sense of the ‘Internet of Things’ but rather as in the ‘Internet of Transport’. We are approaching this project from a creative and innovative point of view but we know we cannot reach for the stars. We will work together with our customers and shipping agents and develop concrete solutions in workshops. This way, we can see what is actually important for our partners in terms of incoming and outgoing cargo because, typically, this is a sort of black box for the sender. In our Innovation Lab, we aim to get rid of this lack of transparency and information.”
A start-up within the company: the BPW Innovation Lab
The BPW Innovation Lab was established in Siegburg, about 40 kilometres from the BPW headquarters in Whiel. Here, a small team works to develop and advance innovative ideas and approaches. A first idea from the lab is currently undergoing proof of concept with a total of six customers and is scheduled to be presented in 2018.
“New business models require the right hardware. Therefore, we are developing an active tracker for the German market that enables tracking of temperature, vibration, and location of the cargo during transport. This tracker is a crucial component of the ‘Internet of Transport’.”
The tracker, which is based on the Sigfox standard, aims to improve transparency of outgoing and incoming goods for both sender and recipient. This way, the participants of the process are aware of where the cargo is and whether it will arrive on time. The deciding factor for this tracking solution, according to Marcus Sassenrath, is the fact that the tracker will be significantly cheaper than the solutions that are currently available on the market. Another advantage of the tracker is the use of the LPWAN standard Sigfox which makes a battery life of up to two years possible.
Electromobility and autonomous driving
According to Sassenrath, one of the driving forces of new digitalisation strategies in terms of production and logistics is electromobility and autonomous driving.
“Autonomous driving in particular will advance and change traffic, mobility in general, and, therefore, logistics in a disruptive sort of way. Electromobility and electric innovations in vehicles are instruments of the future in this sense. Therefore, BPW’s mechatronics lab is testing sensor technology and algorithms that enables future trailers to ‘see’, ‘hear,’ ‘sense’, and communicate. This way, this intelligent trailer will be able to monitor and control its own cargo and protect itself and others from accidents or theft. It monitors its environment so efficiently that assisted, partly autonomous, and autonomous driving will become possible.”
RFID used in production at BPW
The realisation of new concepts and business models is not the only part of a digitalisation strategy. Production is another continuous process that is undergoing a digital transformation. Marcus Sassenrath elaborates, “An error in the process has direct consequences for production.” It is therefore important to focus on IT-supported processes during manufacture at BPW. The company is testing encapsulated RFID transponders that directly integrate components or maintenance support – in terms of predictive maintenance – that are based on sensor technology.
“Our goal is to make the machines and products themselves more intelligent. A while ago, we evaluated the benefits of RFID chips that are placed directly on the axle or integrated into varnishing machines. They have to be resistant to high temperatures. A complete integration would be the ideal solution to make the product life cycle more transparent,” Sassenrath says, giving an outlook into the future of a changed production.