Eric Ballot Eric Ballot, specialist in systems of production and logistics, is a professor in the “Centre de gestion scientique” of Mines ParisTech. He is one of the researchers associated to the project “Initiative for physical Internet”

He was interviewed by the partners of Ecologistics project, an Interreg IVB North West Europe project. It aims at putting in place a demonstrator of technologies of the information which enables the partners of the whole logistics chain to share standardised traceability data.

1) What is Physical Internet?

The physical Internet is a research project which builds on a new theory of organization of logistics operations. This theory is based on Internet which is the interconnection of computers networks. The physical Internet is the interconnection of whole logistics providers: it is more efficient if we manage to regroup things; it aims at delivering numerous smaller and smaller things. Yet, until now, each of us works in his/her corner, but we don’t have a network of logistics providers which can send a pallet to other side of the globe without any issue. However, if we create providers networks, we need know certainly that the parcel will be preserved: people is used to share goods in the same container for shipping but each has its box. We just recreate a private space in a wider public space. We think that it is necessary to have a modular container, designed for handling, individual traced. We can even communicate together in order to track its status in the way even if the network is opened, each person who sends the parcel on physical internet ensures that what is in the container remains private. The security is assured by the participants of the network on one hand and by the exchange protocol on the other hand and by this way, the container can be forwarded from one provider to another with the conditions of responsibility, lead time and payment of each people.

2) What is the place of Physical Internet compared to Internet of Things?

Internet of Things aims at making intelligent and connected things. Thus, the containers of Internet of things will be able to communicate with those who are authorized, to state where they are and what is the situation they are. It can also communicate about the transport means, the handling means, warehouse location and whole participants on their process. With sensor integrated, it is possible to know their position, the possibly collision, the temperature with application on the food security, guarantee on the transport conditions but also to make the decision, orient and operate.

3) How the GS1 standard, in particular EPCIS promoted by Ecologistics project could be an opportuntity for Physical Internet?

Physical internet has a universal vocation which is to be used on over the world by all operators. In this view, GS1 standards comply with this objective by proposing a structure of data and a universal language which enables a parcel to be forwarded from one sender to a receiver with the same data format, without ambiguity on what has happened, where and by who. Moreover, EPCIS data bases will allow publishing the logistic information, whatever the way it was captured: barcode or RFID and maybe in the near future, we will have mini cell phone adapted to logistic things in order to communicate directly in short or long distance with our logistic things.

4) Which materiel should a company possede in order to be connected to Physical Internet?

The first aspect, it is to take advantage of modular and standardised containers. Other aspect, it is to be able to communicate information related to logistics operations. We have done some first tests with EPCIS servers. Those tools can be hosted anywhere but Internet connexion is necessary which enables to get back to the captured data. To do this, a tablet or notebook is enough.

5) Do you have examples of current projects in Physical Internet?

One of the first projects was OTC - KAYPAL® MR which uses the RFID chip put on the cardboard pallets moving in open buckle, with simple technologies of capture of information (smartphone, racket) to diffuse standardised traceability information with EPCIS. It enables us for the first time to follow the life cycle of a pallet, to see where it travelled, its life cycle and moreover to use it better, to stock it better and by consequent to save money. Second example is our project “Centre de Routage Collaboratif”. It is a warehouse supplied by manufacturers (by multi-distributors trucks) in order to deliver those trucks to distributors. They also use EPC Global technologies and GS1 to assure a maximum transparency on the traceability. Therefore, the trucks are better loaded on upstream and downstream. With the European project Modulushca, the idea is to have a container which is designed for whole the logistics chain. Each dispositive of traceability is inserted in each container. It is closed, of course but still can be held on other boxes, to be able to send several containers to the same place as a big container, same as the shipping container. The productivity on the handling is saved but no gain on the handling on the small boxes. The cost on the breaking-up of charge will be very high, without mentioning the lead time, risks…

6) How those projects could be in synergy with the project Ecologistics?

Physical Internet project can build on the works realized in Ecologistics project. Indeed, they have the same aims, the promotion of standardized solutions and in the field of logistics, everybody needs standardized solutions. It does not concern only a local or a sector. It concerns everything in a supermarket, electronic, foods, clothes…Transversal standardized solutions are needed: EPC global standard, like a part of Internet of Things is an important bridge for flow follow-up in the development of Internet of things.