Magna Logistics Europe has recognised six companies in its 2014 Innovation Awards, with solutions addressing supply chain complexity, carbon reduction and packaging efficiency taking top honours.

An RFID tracking device for air freight by technology provider TAGnology took first place in the ‘Supply Chain Innovation’ category, while Virtual Vehicle won the ‘Clean Mobility Innovation’ award for its FRIDA system, which allows manufacturers to test friction losses for engines, and thus help reduce carbon emissions.

Packaging providers DS Smith and Verath took second and third place under Supply Chain Innovation; meanwhile, carbon fibre plastic manufacturer Secar Technologie’s LiteCon cargo container was second in the Clean Mobility category, and a DB Schenker project for hydrogen-cell forklift trucks took third.

Most of the winning companies are either based in Austria or have operations in the country, as the prizes were judged in conjunction with Auto Cluster Styria (ACstyria), a group that represents 180 automotive-related companies in the Austrian state of Styria. Magna Logistics Europe, which manages a number of central logistics processes and bids for Magna across Europe, is also based in Graz, at the Magna Steyr contract manufacturing plant. The awards were presented during the Magna Logistics Day conference held in Leibnitz, in southern Austria, where close to 200 delegates from both Magna’s European divisions and logistics providers gathered.

However, the applications of each system, like Magna’s supply chain, extend far beyond Austrian borders, however.

Jörg Blechinger, director of Magna Logistics Europe pointed to a number of global megatrends and imperatives that were driving Magna’s supply chain and logistics, including more focus on sustainability and increasing global complexity in the supply chain. “OEMs are requesting more proof of sustainability from their suppliers and so we have to follow this trend,” Blechinger told Automotive Logistics.

Likewise, a growth in plants and production across Magna has led to more part numbers, transport and data exchanges. For example, Magna sent around 1.17m EDI messages in 2008; in 2013, this had grown to 200,000 per week, according to Marco Kuchar, head of logistics controlling and innovation at Magna Logistics Europe.

This increase in data and global part flows has made accurate and real-time tracking throughout the global supply chain a “must”, said Blechinger.

As a result, the winning companies all offered products that helped to manage global complexity, and reduce carbon emissions. The TAGnology system, for example, uses an RFID device that tracks freight in real time during trucking and handling, switches off for air freight, and switches back on for onward handling and distribution. Virtual Vehicle’s FRIDA (friction dynamometer) allows manufacturers to test the performance of engines and subsystems without any major structural modification of the engine, making the process of testing for friction losses much more economic.

Packaging winners

Packaging systems arguably dominated the awards, with three of the six winners offering a packaging solution. Overath’s ‘Flipbox’ automotive packaging system is capable of adjusting for many different kinds of individual inserts, allowing for both better pack density and more part variation. DS Smith’s ‘6 Second’ lightweight, easy-to-fold packaging solution was noticed for a reduction in weight, and for making handling much easier: the box can be broken down in just six seconds, and it is easy to repair.

Meanwhile, Austria’s Secar has partnered with Germany’s Evonik and Lufthansa to develop an air cargo container that is up to 25% lighter than conventional equipment.

Klaus Iffland, vice-president of purchasing and logistics for Magna International Europe, told Automotive Logistics that the winning solutions do not necessarily represent products that are currently in use within Magna’s supply chain, but rather are intended to stand as examples that could be adapted or evolved by the company’s logistics management or logistics providers.

“For example, we could consider the lightweight boxes in one of our next RFQs to check whether we can use them in our supply chain depending on the lane and the plant,” said Iffland. “But importantly, we want our logistics service providers to see these innovations, including the RFID solutions, as they could be attractive to them.

‘It could be that one of these ideas is further adapted and then offered to Magna,” he added.

"We want our logistics service providers to see these innovations, including the RFID solutions, as they could be attractive to them" - Klaus Iffland, Magna International Europe

In some cases, the equipment could see further rollout in future. DB Schenker, for example, is currently trialling the use of about 10 hydrogen-powered forklifts, from material handling provider Linde, at a crossdock in Austria. The company has implemented the first indoor hydrogen tank fuelling system in Europe at the facility, allowing fuel cells to be refilled in as little as two minutes, compared to several hours for electric batteries. Carbon dioxide emissions are also reduced by more than four times, when compared to the emissions of traditional forklifts.

“The hydrogen forklifts could be an interesting start for us,” commented Blechinger. “E-mobility will be a success factor for Magna in the future, including in our logistics.”

An in-depth interview with Jörg Blechinger and Klaus Iffland in Automotive Logistics is forthcoming in the coming weeks.

This article was updated on December 8th to correct the spelling of one of the packaging winners. The company's name is Overath, not Verath, as erroneously mentioned.