A glance into the future: goodbye to the chaos in German rest areas?

by Michael Schwemmle
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A long-standing problem on German highways is the lack of truck parking lots. Although the expansion of these spaces is already in progress, it is not fast enough to avoid the risky shortage of space. This is no surprise: The expansion of parking lots should have been started much earlier to handle the strongly increasing truck traffic in Germany. That being said, I would rather look toward future potential solutions than dwell on the past. It is my personal hope that the clogged motorways and service stations that currently plague Germany will soon be remedied.

Why do we not plan intelligently?

First, let´s have a look at the parking problem: truck drivers are legally bound to drive and rest periods that ensure regular breaks on long driving routes. But these breaks unfortunately do not always prevent accidents. The drivers do not have many alternatives when parking spaces are blocked: Either they risk an expensive penalty or at worst, an accident if they keep driving despite being exhausted. Therefore, trucks often jostle at the entry and exit of the motorway service stations on the highways, blocking the way for other drivers. There have even been instances when drivers had to drive backwards on the highway due to overfilling. Thus, the situation is still tense, although the resting periods can be legally expanded in exceptional cases. The optimal solution has not yet been determined.

The question I pose is, can we use existing planning methods to curb this chaos? For example, in the automotive industry, intelligent planning systems are already being used to solve similar logistical problems. Several thousand new cars and their parking lots are efficiently planned on auto terminals optimally matched to their future loading, unloading, and transport routes. Important data such as destination, delivery date, and car model have to be given to the system for planning purposes. Rest areas on highways could profit from such systems. For the planning of parking spaces on motorway service stations, the data needed could, for example, include the remaining time until the mandatory breaks, occupied spaces, or distance until the next rest station. This way, the optimal parking space for the trucks could be calculated before they arrive. After the intelligent calculation, the truck drivers could book their optimal parking spot while on the road with the system. The parking problem would be history.

Similar approaches can already be observed in Bavaria on the A9 between Nuremberg and Munich. Here, truck drivers can already book free parking areas via smartphone or the internet. Intelligent laser systems control the in- and outgoing vehicles and identify the available capacity of the motorway service station. The driver still needs to actively book a spot and is responsible for the compliance of break periods. Nevertheless, this represents a first step in the right direction.

My vision of modern rest stations goes a little further: Each single truck should find its optimal parking slot. In finished vehicle logistics, tracking is used to locate the new cars and optimally plan their routes. I strongly believe that if huge auto yards can be planned by these intelligent systems, the planning should similarly be possible on German motorway stations.

Using the logistics potential of finished vehicle logistics

I also see potential for improvement in the mandatory breaks. As I am thinking of optimization potential all the time, I cannot stand the thought of time passing-by while efficient processes could be running. Why do we not use the break time to send smaller vans to pick up the transport goods at the parking areas? This way, the trucks would vanish from cities. Additionally, transportation companies could better position themselves for the future by efficiently using their resources, for instance using electric vehicles instead of the vans. Environmental protection and corporate social responsibility are increasingly important for companies, and the transportation firms could use the positioning as a competitive advantage.

In general, rest stations could be more like flexible and agile logistics centers. In terms of optimal efficiency, deliveries and pickups could operate there day and night. All processes would have to be organized in a timely manner, but the potential impact on German roads is huge. High-performing control and optimization systems would need to be installed to intelligently schedule smooth processes. In finished vehicle logistics, intelligent solutions already plan all transport processes in the distribution network along with the auto terminal processes. This way, all movements of the vehicles in the auto yard are planned as efficient as possible, from the plant all the way to the distributor.

Efficient transport management in finished vehicle logistics arranges the best transport routes to ensure on time delivery. As decision-intelligent systems already plan the vehicles´ transport routes to minimize length and optimize transport utilization, they could also optimally plan the route, including mandatory breaks, for the truck drivers. Furthermore, the software coordinates how the cars are best placed to ensure that the vehicle transporters and vessels need as little loading time as possible. The transparent mapping of all processes is the basis for the optimization. While modern finished vehicle logistics tracks all movements, on German highways there is still potential for improvement.

Closing thoughts

The expansion of new parking spaces on German highways is time-consuming due to several permissions and the opposition of citizens against unpopular expansion measures. I still think there is no other option but to continue the expansion. That being said, the motorway service stations in Germany should be prepared for the future. Similar technologies and application areas within finished vehicle logistics show that it is possible to intelligently plan and control extremely complex processes and entire distribution networks. Although my vision of "mega hubs" replacing motorway parking stations is still my personal future picture, overcrowded parking areas need to be optimized. Besides the accidents due to missing capacities, logistical potential may be lost. Intelligent finished vehicle logistics shows which optimization potentials and advantages such solutions offer.

Which visions do you have about known logistics processes and solutions to adapt to other problems?

About the author

  • Michael Schwemmle

    Michael Schwemmle started working for INFORM in 2015. He is passionate about finished vehicle logistics and all topics related to the automotive industry as well as optimization.

    More about the author at:

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