“We need intelligent concepts, in which all modes of transport are integrated”
Dr Frank Albers, Managing Director of Sales and Marketing at the Krone Commercial Vehicle Group,met Axel Plaß in Hamburg for a walk at a major locale for combined transport: at the Duss terminal of Deutsche Bahn in Hamburg. The entrepreneur is running for the office of DSLV President.
Driver shortage is not a new topic in the industry, however it is a topic that is more relevant than ever. How can this problem be tackled? Plaß: I would put this another way and not call this a driver shortage, but rather, a shortage of people who are willing to do the work that is involved in transport. Regardless of whether that’s the driver or a colleague at the office: we need more employees in all areas. The same is true of other industries and more needs to be done than just looking for drivers.
Albers: I also think that we are dealing with a holistic problem. The image of the driver’s profession plays a role as a root cause here, as well as how drivers are treated, be it on the ramp or in terms of adhering to the shortest delivery time window at the shipper. Such processes have to change, and therefore a collaborative effort is necessary. And transport as such needs to be more appreciated. Transport costs money - Logistics costs money. If returns are free of charge in the online trade, then this suggests to the end user that this service has no value. There is certainly not just the one solution, but instead there are many building blocks that together, can contribute to a certain degree of success. For example, training could be adapted in such a way that even young graduates with a Hauptschulabschluss (German school leaving certificate) or secondary school diploma can learn the profession, so that they can acquire a driving license at 16 and perhaps be deployed in local transport.
Axel Plaß, born in 1966, is the managing partner of Hamburg forwarding agent, Konrad Zippel. He relies heavily on combined transport in his company: At Zippel, more than 3,000 TEUs are transported by rail per week, primarily from Hamburg, Wilhelmshaven and Bremen to Berlin or Leipzig and Schkopau. Plaß has been a member of the Presidium of the German Freight Forwarding and Logistics Association (DSLV) since 2016, where he is Chairman of the Specialist Committee for Rail Freight. He is running for the office of DSLV President. The election will be held in mid-September.
Plaß: Of course, as chairman of the specialist committee for rail freight transport in the DSLV, I am in favour of expanding combined transport. Then the drivers can work shifts and be home more often, and this adjustment of the working hours would make the job more attractive. We still find very good personnel for these jobs. It is still difficult, but not as difficult as in long-haul transport. And in my opinion, much of what needs to be transported over a distance of more than 300 kilometres by road belongs in combined transport.
Will the problem not be resolved on its own if the profession dies out due to autonomous driving and platooning? Plaß: I do not think that will happen; we are not anywhere near that far along. Anyone who completes an apprenticeship as a professional driver today can assume that he can retire with it.
What potential for transport and logistics could new technologies still provide? Albers: We are product manufacturers, but service always plays an important role for us; from telematics, with which we generate and make available freight data, through the smart trailer, which makes it possible to monitor the cargo space, for example, to the WLAN-compatible telematics box. Thus in the future, you will be able connect the trailer directly with freight exchanges and generate additional orders. In the case of products, topics such as recuperation are exciting, or particular light-weight materials such as fine-grained steel, which allow more payload and reduce CO2 emissions. Side panels or rear diffusers also provide for less fuel consumption. We are also confronted with legal requirements regarding these topics, for which we are preparing accordingly with an eye to the future.
Mr Plaß, how intelligent is your fleet at Zippel? Plaß: For years, we have been using a location that supports our dispatchers by displaying where each vehicle is currently located. These days, our in-house processes are supported by IT, but still controlled by people. We are preparing for the fact that the processes will soon be completely IT-controlled. We use gas trucks, reducing particulate matter and CO2 emissions by 95 percent. Environmental sustainability is also becoming more important to our customers, and they are increasingly willing to spend money on it. Combined with intelligent transport guides, this can be the success, and you can then offer the customer a product that he can book with a clear conscience. But all of that is only possible with high-quality vehicles that we can rely on.
Quality remains the most important success factor? Plaß: Absolutely, it is more important now than ever. The reliability of material has become a crucial factor. Because if I have downtime and repair times or, even worse, if a resource fails somewhere in the transport chain, this must not be communicated to the customer, and ultimately, it is also a fiasco from a commercial point of view. That is often impossible to express in financial terms: it costs money and, in the end, you may even lose the customer and your good reputation. You can do the best job, but if the technology does not last, it will not do you any good.
Albers: At KRONE, quality and reliability are key factors for long-term customer satisfaction. The commercial vehicle market is very price sensitive. In this respect, we are constantly prompted to further optimise our products. Quality has its price and here, the focus must be clearly defined. But if you look at the mileage or the useful life of these vehicles, then we are talking about very small additional monthly amounts and the customer gets the assurance that he will reliably get from A to B, without any serious discussions with the shipper.
Dr Frank Albers, born in 1971, has been Managing Director of Sales and Marketing for the Krone Commercial Vehicle Group since August. The graduate in business administration completed his training at Krone. After completing his studies, doctorate and other key points along his professional career, he has worked for Krone in leading positions in sales and marketing since 2003.
Plaß: For those of us in container transport, the subject of air freight always hangs like a sword of Damocles over our transport operation. If we do not reach a ship, then the goods must somehow find a way to catch up. That often means air freight, which sometimes costs as much as a mid-range car. It makes you think twice first about whether you are saving in the wrong place.
Volumes are increasing: Can freight transport handle this? Albers: You have to integrate all modes of transport in order to operate a sensible concept. Where rail is needed and an option, you should also use it. This also affects the waterways and, with deductions for costs and environmental impact, air freight transport too. In terms of our product range, I am not worried either, because it is not just curtain-sided semitrailers and box semitrailers that are being sold and driven, there are also box semitrailers in our product portfolio for combined transport as well as interchangeable systems.
Plaß: Where Krone is a “world leader”.
Albers: Yes, we now sell over 12,000 units every year, many of which are also oriented towards parcel service and online trade. Transport and logistics must be viewed as an overall concept involving all means of transport, and rail and road are not competitors in that regard. Rather, we must design the starting point in such a way that the goods reach their destination using the best means of transport.
Plaß: There is still a lot of life left in the topic: A great deal can be moved by means of digitisation, longer trains and a relatively clear expansion of the infrastructure. Of course, there are bottlenecks at the main terminals; the hotspots are full. But there are still sufficient options. These days, if some 30 trucks drive from one customer to another at night, this transport should be by rail and indeed, only fits onto the rails.
What else will come out in favour of combined transport in the future? Albers: From a macroeconomic point of view, we want to secure Germany as an industrial location. Transport and logistics play an essential role, including f the manufacturing industry. You will also experience bottlenecks, if transport does not work, or logistics does not work. Thus all stakeholders should be interested in implementing sound concepts and integrating all modes of transport.
Plaß: Without intelligent transport concepts, we are going to hit a brick wall in the most literal sense of the word. The transport market will not develop without them. The easy way to go, thus maintaining the many point-to-point transports we carry out today, will not work in the future because of driver shortages and environmental concerns. We need intelligent concepts, in which all modes of transport are integrated, and where resources are used rationally. In order to implement these concepts, you need companies like Krone, which do not just polish a piece of iron until someday a container fits on it, but which constantly bring forth new innovations and products.
“Transport and logistics must be viewed as an overall concept involving all means of transport, and rail and road are not competitors in that regard.”
Dr Frank Albers, Managing Director Sales and Marketing for the Krone Commercial Vehicle Group
Albers: I’d like to respond this way: needless to say, there are also innovative customers who challenge us but who also help to advance the development of our products. Obviously we need to develop them in a practical way. We like to work closely with our customers. After all, it makes little sense to develop ideas on the drawing board and then place them before users when they are already complete.
Plaß: We have been doing business with Krone as Zippel Group Spedition for more than 30 years and during that time, we have also initiated various technical innovations. When we wanted something, you’ve always had a sympathetic ear for us. I remember a meeting in Werlte when the design manager was brought to the table. We discussed what we wanted, he went to his office, simulated this on his computer, came back after an hour and said: “We can do this!” He was even able to provide us with an estimated investment amount. I’ve never experienced that with any other vehicle manufacturer in Germany.
Albers: Of course, we also do that with other customers when it comes to curtain-sided semitrailers or refrigerated vehicles. We are directly on-site looking at loading and unloading, how the vehicles are used, and then trying to optimise these things. Our technicians travelled on a ferry to observe the loading and unloading process during the crossing and to find out, among other things, what reinforcement a chassis needed for ferry shackles. This practical orientation allows us to design very durable vehicles, which of course can also be safely and comfortably operated by the users, or in other words, the drivers.