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Logistics Trends 2023/2024: Which Direction for AI?

DHL Freight Logistics trends 2023

As with every year, we provide an outlook on the most significant logistics trends that will shape the world of logistics in the coming year. Considering the rapid development and widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) since the introduction of ChatGPT, AI and the related automation are obviously the buzzwords for 2024. Networking, transparency, and sustainability also remain crucial, as our outlook for 2024 reveals.

The keyword for our 2023 trends was “resilience”. After the supply chain problems caused by the coronavirus and the war in Ukraine, we felt that innovative technologies for the stabilization and robustness of supply chains should be a priority. And as it turned out in 2023, it was not just us at DHL Freight who thought this way; the relevance of resilient supply chains was recognized worldwide and efforts were made to implement technical solutions – with success: Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and new sources of conflict, supply bottlenecks were largely avoided – everyone must now be focused on ensuring that this remains the case in 2024 and beyond.

We also emphasized digital trends such as multichannel logistics, networking, robotics, big data, blockchain and, of course, AI. The publication of ChatGPT in November 2022 dominated the technological discourse last year and accelerated the progress of AI. This development will continue, accompanied by innovations in related technologies such as autonomous driving and computer vision.

Last but not least, we at DHL Freight will always be committed to sustainability. We firmly believe that technological progress will also be reflected in environmental sustainability through increased efficiency.

Trends in Logistics 2024: Digital Supply Chain Driven by AI

The high inflation which characterized the last year and a half appears to be overcome in the major economies. 2024 could witness an increase in consumer demand. This makes it all the more important to be prepared for this. The further digitization and automation proceed, the better. Innovation is not an end but serves efficiency, sustainability, and resilience.

The skills shortage in the transport industry will continue in 2024. This will make it more and more challenging to meet customer demand adequately. For service providers in the logistics industry, it remains essential to plan transports with foresight, to make optimum use of existing freight capacities, and to eliminate inefficiencies. This is only possible with comprehensive digitization. In 2024, just as in 2023, it is hence important to start on the path to digitization or to pursue it consistently. 

AI plays the main role in understanding mistakes and learning how to avoid them in the future. The implementation of AI will progress especially in the areas of planning, forecasting, and asset management: the planning of routes or load building, predictions of customer demand and management of fleets, facilities or inventories, etc.

To be honest: In contrast to the ubiquitous discussion, AI must still catch up in implementation. Also in 2024, AI is not expected to take over major parts of the operational business. However, the rapid development in performance and the increased accessibility of AI solutions should promote the use of AI in logistics, not only among global players, but also in medium-sized to smaller companies.

“The events of the past two years have illustrated the importance of robust supply chains and functioning logistics. We believe that inspiration and innovation, open exchange and intensive cooperation are crucial for success in the future.”

Katja Busch DHL

Katja Busch Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation

New Possibilities for Networking

In a consistently digital supply chain, all human participants in processes as well as all vehicles, shipments, and warehouses are networked: via cloud applications or blockchain technology, and by means of sensor technology and Internet of Things solutions. The global expansion of 5G networks could accelerate development by providing the necessary infrastructure and allowing very large amounts of data to be processed quickly. This enables real-time data exchange and analysis.

Transparency in the supply chain is expected to improve further by 2024. Surveys show that while some logistics-specific data such as transportation data or receiving reports are often exchanged to a sufficient extent. Nevertheless, when it comes to supply chain disruptions, data sharing and digital collaboration across the entire supply chain can still be significantly improved. The aim here is to tap into potential, as big data and data transparency are extremely efficient when combined with adaptive AI systems, especially in crisis management.

Automation Continues to Be the Trend

The need for more skilled workers requires the consistent expansion of the level of automation to operate efficiently despite the gaps in personnel. Autonomous vehicles and robots should be deployed outside company premises as soon as possible and not just inside like today. Picking robots, shelf robots, and autonomous drones have been part of everyday working life in logistics centers for some time now – and as far as the use of autonomous delivery vehicles on the road is concerned, there could be some progress in 2024, at least in test operations. For example, the German research association ATLAS-L4 plans to carry out test drives with autonomous trucks on German Autobahns in 2024.

Perhaps autonomous delivery vehicles on public roads will become a reality sooner than we currently assume.

Logistics is the backbone of the local and global economy and will remain so in the near future. It is also one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases and is currently responsible for a good 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. In addition to the ecological necessity of reducing this level of emissions, sustainability in logistics will be an economic success factor in 2024 just as in preceding years. Nowadays, many customers and business partners make business decisions dependent on the sustainable management of other parties. 

DHL Freight offers the GoGreen Plus service as part of its commitment to reduce all logistics-related emissions to net zero by 2050. Based on the principle of carbon insetting, DHL Freight invests in green technologies and fuels to avoid emissions directly within its own network. 

In 2023, international studies on offsetting confirmed that we are backing the right horse. Offsetting is the opposite of insetting. By purchasing climate certificates, investments are made in projects that offset emissions worldwide. As a result of the investigations, many climate certificates have been criticized for being ecologically ineffective. For this reason, the entire logistics industry should follow the principle that insetting is better than offsetting.

Apart from that, less energy consumption and less packaging continue to pave the way for ecological benefits. Improved drive technologies, energy-efficient heating and lighting systems, solar panels on warehouse roofs, and packaging made from recycled materials or renewable raw materials also contribute to greener logistics.

Technological development by the end of the decade will likely depend in large part on the performance of new AI applications. The amount of autonomy and scope humans want to assign to AI will also play a role here. The European Union has already taken action in this regard with the AI Act, the world's first regulation of artificial intelligence. On the other hand, China is already using AI for face recognition – so the future of AI remains intriguing and not without risk.

Independent of AI, there are two visions for the medium-term future:

  • Networking could evolve into a supergrid that integrates as many supply chain networks as possible around the world and further increases transparency.
  • 3D printing technology could well be the production method of the future. As the technology has advanced and matured, its acceptance in the automotive, medical, and aerospace industries has expanded to larger batch sizes and a wider range of objects and materials. Printing in-demand products or individual parts locally could partially replace transportation over long distances. The product is no longer transported from the factory in A to the centers of consumption in B, but printed directly in B according to demand.
Logistics Trend Radar 6.0

You can find more short-, medium- and long-term trends in our Logistics Trend Radar 6.0.

Conclusion: Considering AI and Sustainability as a Single Entity

In the future, AI will make the difference, and the general development of digitization and automation will depend on the progress of AI. The successful integration of AI into as many logistics processes as possible is the task of the next year and decade.

However, AI can also make a decisive contribution to the sustainability of logistics by optimizing processes: optimized processes are energy-efficient and require as few resources as possible. And this efficiency is necessary to reconcile successful logistics management with the conservation of natural resources on an intact planet. The year 2024 will provide the first indications of where the journey will take us.

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