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Featured image: What’s Hot in Logistics at DB Schenker with Erik Wirsing

What’s Hot in Logistics at DB Schenker with Erik Wirsing

What’s Hot in Logistics at DB Schenker with Erik Wirsing

“Innovation is a necessary part of our DNA. It’s all about openness and transparency, about spotting trends and finding out if there’s something in it for us or not. If not, hands-off. But if yes, try to convince your company to adopt and scale.”

– Erik Wirsing

In this episode of the ITONICS Innovation Rockstars podcast, our CEO Dr. Christian Mühlroth exchanges ideas with Erik Wirsing, Vice President Global Innovation from DB Schenker about the hottest innovation topics in logistics. The die-hard innovation enthusiast is always on the lookout for new trends and technologies that are shaping the future of logistics.

The fact that the term “hungryforinnovation” is not just a simple company hashtag, but rather an attitude that stands for a genuine desire and passion for innovation, becomes particularly evident when Erik enthusiastically talks about DB Schenker’s cooperation project with the German aircraft manufacturer Volocopter. But what exactly is it all about? And how will projects like this and similar ones change the future of logistics in the coming years? You are also #hungryforinnovation? Then this is your episode!

Subscribe to the series on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify or view the video recordings at Innovation Rockstars.

Logistics is hungry for innovation

Chris: Hi, and welcome back to another episode of Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth, and in this episode I am pleased to welcome Erik Wirsing, Vice President of Global Innovation with DB Schenker. Erik’s focal points are innovation trends, research, the development of startup partnerships, and the DB Schenker Lab. Erik, it's great to have you on the show. It's a pleasure and I think we'll have a lot to discuss.

Erik: Hi Chris and hello to everybody out there. Many thanks for the invitation as it's great to be here and taking part in this fantastic podcast.

Chris: It's great to have you here. Let's kick things off as per usual with a 60 seconds introduction sprint about you, your career and current role at DB Schenker. Eric, the floor is all yours. Go for it!

“Logistics is so much more than transporting things from A to B and storage.”

– Erik Wirsing

Erik: My name is Erik Wirsing and I'm responsible for global innovation at DB Schenker. We are a logistics company and I've been involved with logistics for the past 22 years now; well 22 years, one month and 11 days to date. A considerable amount of time. My area of expertise and involvement is all about trends, new technologies, the future of logistics, everything in between that could potentially change our business environment and business model. I am always on the lookout for opportunities, threats or unexpected events that could all affect the aforementioned areas. Meeting that task is anything but easy, and that's why we are always trying to discover new ways of working faster, smarter and different than our competitors. Logistics has a vast reach including startups and new developments. It's all about bringing new knowledge into organization and that is something that we are aiming for; bringing in that knowledge and distributing that to all four corners of the world where we are present. We are an organization of 76,000 people in 130 countries and every day we are providing support to our customers in logistics by using all the innovative bells and whistles where possible. Logistics is so much more than transporting things from A to B and storage; there's a lot more to it but we'll get to that later.

Chris: Amazing. Thanks for that. Up next, I have three sentence starters for you, and I would like for you to complete them. Number 1: "My favorite form of transportation at the moment is…"

Erik: I am still a big fan of driving my car. However, I am also equally looking forward to the advancement of autonomous driving. Other than the car, I also like to take the train, since my teams are interspersed in different cities. It's convenient and allows for working on the go as well. So, my vote goes to the car and train.

Chris: Great. Number 2: "Logistics is…"

Erik: Totally cool, sexy, diverse and different. If you want to work for an international company and deal with everything that's out there, then logistics is your place to be at.

Chris: Great. Finally, number 3: "If I were to be reincarnated, I would be…"

Erik: I would still be working in logistics because I really love what I do. When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming an architect or something like that, so that may be a close contender. However, my first love is and will always be logistics, therefore I would most likely follow that same trajectory that I am on right now.

Chris: I am noticing a pattern here where you seem to have an innate passion for building things, or that seems to be the theme. Awesome. On that same note, let's start off with a general question to get the juices flowing. How receptive is logistics to innovation in general these days?

Erik: Much more than a few years ago. As I mentioned already, I've been doing this for more than 22 years and I think over the last ten years, there were a lot of changes within our industry. And the last 5, 6, 7 years was even more of disruption sometimes and also transformation. Therefore, we are extremely open for innovation because we all know we are not alone on that planet. We have to cooperate with different partners with different suppliers with startups with universities and therefore because we as a logistic industry and company, we are dealing with all legal setups with all customer segments. And that is something we really need, also new ideas to be even there tomorrow and to be also relevant by tomorrow.

Logistic is a great field for new ways of thinking and new ways of working. And of course, there's a lot of pressure on the market because we are one of the biggest logistics service providers on this planet. But our market share in total is around 3%. So then you can imagine there are many other logistic companies out there. And it's also telling our customers that we are also future oriented. We want to be there even tomorrow, helping our customers to be there tomorrow. And therefore, innovation is a necessity and a part of our DNA to always have to look at what might be next and what is relevant tomorrow. How can we also help our customers grow?

“I think the biggest challenge at the moment when it comes to innovation within our industry, and maybe also in other industries, is that there are too many possibilities.”

– Erik Wirsing

Over the last 5, 6, 7 years, a lot of things have happened. New technologies have entered our market. Also new startups have entered the market, sometimes as a supporter, sometimes as a disruptor. And therefore, also our board and the whole industry recognized there was a big transformation in front of us and of course when that transformation is there, you always can think on your own, okay, I don't care and because everybody will do the same, we will drive by tomorrow as well. Or you think, let's really adapt it, seeing what is enough for us and really drive that further and to we went for the second part.

So, we really want to adopt new technologies, integrate them and help our colleagues and our customers to be even better by tomorrow. So therefore, fantastic speed for innovation, great new technologies. I think the biggest challenge at the moment when it comes to innovation within our industry, and maybe also in other industries, is that there are too many possibilities. So really finding a focus. That is one of the biggest challenges.

Supply chain disruptions and their impact on logistics

Chris: I totally can relate to that. Before we dive deeper into the different challenges of innovation and focus areas, let's talk about globalization for a bit. As you are most likely aware, globalization has been perceived as a good thing, and a direct result of that was faster deliveries at lower prices. However, there were some concerns as well such as the impact on the environment or sustainability in general. I believe, the reality on a global scale is that there are still lingering and prevalent risks, especially as far as container shipping companies are concerned and there's only a few large ones that really play the music. That fact makes us somewhat dependent on these large shipping companies. Then, what happened next? The pandemic hit and the snowball effect and impact was felt by these very same companies in the shape of supply chain disruptions and backlogs at ports and other depots. How did DB Schenker weather that period and how was that disruption perceived?

Erik: You're well-informed and what you said is completely right. I think what is happening at the moment is the realization that we were never faced with such an unprecedented situation. We've been telling our customers for ages that there is no need for local storage of commodities, since we are after all a logistics company and it's implied that we'd take care of that. The expectation is that we can transport commodities globally to our customers relatively rapidly. However, now we have to contend with the pandemic that has been wreaking havoc everywhere, but we can't just fold and call it a day despite that. We need to come up with alternative plans for our customers to continue providing continuous and consistent logistical solutions. It's still hard to imagine that not even two years ago, the entire country shut down in lock-down. Because of our telling our customers that they don't need local storage anymore, we have to double down on providing a "business as usual" approach for the automotive and electronics industry. Their requirements are very sensitive to changes in the supply chain, since any kind of disruption or delay can throw their entire schedule up in the air, and that is a considerable problem that we, as the logistics solutions provider, cannot ignore.

Since they don't have warehouses, what are they to do? The answer is that they keep the shipping containers as makeshift warehouses. However, there's only so many containers globally available and the ocean freight carriers are at full capacity. It isn't any better at the major ports, like San Francisco, Rotterdam or Hamburg, which is just a logistical conundrum with many companies waiting in turn for capacities to free up so that they can get their freight processed. You can picture rows of ships waiting outside the port facilities for their turn to dock on an already stretched timetable and slots. Air freight was also not left unscathed. You might not have been aware of this but most freight is carried by passenger planes. Most planes had been grounded during the height of the pandemic, thus a big challenge for us is to best utilize the airplanes for air cargo to and from our customers —no pressure on meeting contractual obligations on top of that, and we have to fulfill their demands. It's a very tightly orchestrated dance and if you step out of line or can't dance the dance and meet the obligations, even with a pandemic ranging in parallel, then you have to pay penalties.

We have to be very clear and upfront to our clients too by setting clear expectations to alleviate any bottlenecks or prevalent logistical issues. For instance, we started to employ more charters in the shape of passenger planes. We took the seats out and loaded the freight onto the upper deck of the airplanes. This led to forms of collaboration with airplane providers and the ferrying of air cargo. That also ushered in new business models that have started but still, that was not going to solve all challenges at once, since it's an incredibly complex and crowded market. As I already mentioned, ocean freight has no additional capacities to spare and the same can be said of air freight. Even ground-based transport is also at max capacity right now. You might have noticed that from your personal experience where shipping and delivery of laptops, digital cameras or anything electronics-related were delayed, since there was a high demand for equipping home offices. There was a lot of traffic from Asia to Europe and the Americas, which all fueled demand for logistical solutions. We are trying to provide capacities somehow, and it goes beyond tariffs or pricing but it's more about who can do something about this impasse.

Even with this impasse, the demand for logistical solutions is not slowing down as people continue to order commodities globally and expect delivery. With these various commodities going places, we also had to adjust how we transport what. For instance, for a time there was a great demand for healthcare products, such as face masks but also vaccines. We also have new methods of transporting temperature sensitive commodities to meet the demand of some customers. As you can see, there's still so much going on and it isn't getting easier. I suspect this trend to continue for the next foreseeable future as the demand will outrun logistics capacities for while to come. Crazy times but also good times for since that gives us the chance to rise to the challenge and shine to our customers by convincing them that we are still supporting and facilitating their logistical needs during this period.

That pledge opens up new opportunities and possibilities to establish new things, collaboration, business models, mindset and so much more. You might recall 2008, where we were faced with the global economic crisis. Despite that, new companies sprung up like AirBnB and Uber. The whole logistics industry is slowly transitioning to the mindset of using what is already present and existing to its fullest potential to take advantage of new avenues of approach. The interesting part is that even though logistics is never really seen explicitly, you can always rest assured that it's alive and kicking, working relentlessly in the background. This predicate has given us the impetus we needed to push boundaries and to make use of the fact that logistics is always needed and ever-present in people's mindset within the whole industry. This should make it also enticing and attractive to young talent to view the logistics industry as a growing and exciting industry, that is globally diverse as it is connected; it's a great place to be working in.

Chris: I totally agree with that and crazy times encourage strong innovators to come forth to break new ground, even more so in turbulent times. That enables you to observe who was prepared and who makes efficient use of their capabilities; it's the complete opposite of dipping your head into the sand and riding the storm out. It certainly boils down to  capabilities and to react decisively. We have seen recent developments that support that statement. For example, Infineon, decided to open a new plant for their semiconductor production in Austria in September 2021. There are others who are centralizing and relocating their assets to better use them. Speaking of relocation, or perhaps I should call it re-localization, have you seen strong indicators of developments for that trend?

Erik: Isn't that a cool thing though with all these great technologies and all these crazy things that have been heard over the last years having an impact on logistics? The technological shifts provide great baselines for anyone in the logistics industry to deal with in order not to fall behind. Of course, The Boring Company from Elon Musk is a great example, where the idea is to use tunnels to ferry goods around. That's pretty amazing. There are also companies that promote smart cities and it's co-supported by the University of Zurich. All of these concepts will definitely make an appearance sooner or later, and they will need to be tested for viability and that's something I really enjoy because in the early stages to determine whether they are fitting our purpose. Is it matching our operations, business model and customer demands. The latter is vital and shows that we are listening to them. The most important thing is to time things right when launching something new onto the market, because if it's wrong, even with the best tech or solution on the planet, it most likely will be doomed to fail.

The same outcome can be expected when you're not listening to your customer and whether they find any use for the great ideas you are presenting. If they don't see a value or point to it, then it will fail from their perspective and they won't go for it. Nobody wants to pay for a service or product that does not elicit confidence and value. As you mentioned, new technologies are on the horizon and Hyperloop entertains around 15 initiatives all over Europe dealing with new emergent technologies. Some universities, some startups, some infrastructure projects, some train operators like Deutsche Bahn also are starting to collaborate and get involved with the concept of Hyperloop initiatives. I think this technology can't come soon enough since we are gradually running out of truck drivers and capacities, which Hyperloop could alleviate. One of the concepts is a vacuum tube with speeds as high as 1224 km/h, and there's nothing faster, well apart from the Concorde but that one doesn't exist anymore. This tube concept will be amazing for long distance transports and even more so in reducing the CO2 footprint. Nevertheless, I think we have to wait for two or three years more before we'll see the first signs of these tubes being deployed.

Another exciting thing that's showing more of a presence is autonomous driving. It's a totally crazy concept on paper but Germany will be the first country on Earth to get legal permission to make use of fully autonomous driving solutions. Proposals have already been submitted to the government with a few more kinks that need to be worked out but we can see that being completed as early as next year. It'll be a level four setup where it will be allowed to drive autonomously from terminal to terminal on public roads without a driver. So that is another great technology that we as a logistic company will have to take a good look at. Is it interesting for us? Is there a business case for this technology? How do we integrate that technology if we were to implement it? There are so many fantastic opportunities and they all have an impact and relevance for us with a lot of movement.

Chris: I believe that we are gradually getting a hang of these changes though, that even factors in the globalization and thus there's a lot of different dynamics going on right now. For instance, you have the Belt and Road Initiative, which fuels a lot of competition in order to reduce the shipping times considerably. Then you have companies like The Boring Company from Elon Musk or Hyperloop with all the crazy technologies coming up that promise to massively reduce the transportation time. We are also bearing witness to the trend, as you mentioned before, of globalization to centralize everything in a 'just-in-time' fashion with closer proximity from supplier to consumer. In your opinion, do you think that the cards are not shuffled well and thus see even more disruptions and innovative events occurring that could be in favor of reducing transportation time and cost?

Erik: Isn't that cool a cool thing though with all these great technologies and all these crazy things that have been heard over the last years having an impact on logistics? The technological shifts provide great baselines for anyone in the logistics industry to deal with in order not to fall behind. Of course, the Boring Company from Elon Musk is a great example, where the idea is to use tunnels to ferry goods around. That's pretty amazing. There are also companies that promote smart cities and it's co-supported by the University of Zurich. All of these concepts will definitely make an appearance sooner or later, and they will need to be tested for viability and that's something I really enjoy because in the early stages to determine whether they are fitting our purpose. Is it matching our operations, business model and customer demands. The latter is vital and shows that we are listening to them. The most important thing is to time things right when launching something new onto the market, because if it's wrong, even with the best tech or solution on the planet, it most likely will be doomed to fail.

The same outcome can be expected when you're not listening to your customer and whether they find any use for the great ideas you are presenting. If they don't see a value or point to it, then it will fail from their perspective and they won't go for it. Nobody wants to pay for a service or product that does not elicit confidence and value. As you mentioned, new technologies are on the horizon and Hyperloop entertains around 15 initiatives all over Europe dealing with new emergent technologies. Some universities, some startups, some infrastructure projects, some train operators like Deutsche Bahn also are starting to collaborate and get involved with the concept of Hyperloop initiatives. I think this technology can't come soon enough since we are gradually running out of truck drivers and capacities, which Hyperloop could alleviate. One of the concepts is a vacuum tube with speeds as high as 1224 km/h, and there's nothing faster, well apart from the Concorde but that one doesn't exist anymore. This tube concept will be amazing for long distance transports and even more so in reducing the CO2 footprint. Nevertheless, I think we have to wait for two or three years more before we'll see the first signs of these tubes being deployed.

Another exciting thing that's showing more of a presence is autonomous driving. It's a totally crazy concept on paper but Germany will be the first country on Earth to get legal permission to make use of fully autonomous driving solutions. Proposals have already been submitted to the government with a few more kinks that need to be worked out but we can see that being completed as early as next year. It'll be a level four setup where it will be allowed to drive autonomously from terminal to terminal on public roads without a driver. So that is another great technology that we as a logistic company will have to take a good look at. Is it interesting for us? Is there a business case for this technology? How do we integrate that technology if we were to implement it? There are so many fantastic opportunities and they all have an impact and relevance for us with a lot of movement.

“We observe trends by conducting trend analysis and we specifically have a trend radar for that purpose. We are challenging that with our sales colleagues. We have a platform in place and we are pooling inputs from start ups, from trends, from our projects, from R&D and from funding possibilities to leverage anything that could be useful.”

– Erik Wirsing

Chris: We covered a lot ranging from autonomous driving to The Boring Company drilling tunnels, etc. How do you keep on top of all these crazy times? How do you make sense and cope with all the changes? How do you identify the trends and communicate them to stakeholders?  Is there kind of a systematic process at DB Schenker that helps the staff understand, assess and respond to the emerging changes?

Erik: Yes and no. Sometimes it's pure chance and you just have to deal with whatever is thrown at you with little warnings. Other times there are legal restrictions and obstacles, like embargoes and certain countries, then you have to deal with that situation, whatever it is. There are also trends that we are observing by conducting trend analysis and we specifically have a trend radar for that purpose. We are challenging that with our sales colleagues. We have a platform in place and we are pooling inputs from start ups, from trends, from our projects, from R&D and from funding possibilities to leverage anything that could be useful. The most important thing is also involving your colleagues, customers and everybody else who might have a stake and whom you would do well to solicit feedback from. We are a small team and we can't think of and know everything, that's why we need feedback as often as possible, and for that we have a formal and structured process. We call it an innovation thesis. Those thesis revolve around focal areas that we are interested in exploring and they provide us with clear guidance on what we are hoping to achieve within the next year, then we are challenging these innovation thesis. There's always the element of randomness though and that's where you also notice a lot of startups cropping up around that.

If you're a startup within the logistics sector, then you can be certain that we'll have you in our database somehow. Right now we have around 4,000 startups already that have more or less a significance in the logistic industry, and that gives us a reason to figure out if that is of relevance to us or not. Could they be new future suppliers? Maybe they'll complement a new business model and possibly would be worthwhile investing into? That kind of fast feedback loop is so relevant and so interesting because as I said in the beginning, there are so many cool things out but you want to avoid working on something all day that has absolutely no value to or impact on your company. Therefore, trying things to fail fast and stopping things before they drain more resources unnecessarily is something that we have to do a lot more frequently and consistently. There's a process but it can't cover everything but fortunately, folks in logistics are very pragmatic. We want to test people, we want to feel, touch and listen. We want to explore. Of course, we are not aiming for writing a PhD or rocket science concepts but we really want to make sure there's something of value for us in it. That requires an internal company network as well obviously to facilitate and encourage such a mindset. This runs through all levels of the company, even all the way up to the board.

If the board is not on board with new technologies or behind emerging trends, then it will also be quite hard within the company to really establish and scale new opportunities for your customers and for your colleagues. It's a process, but you shouldn't overdo it. I've seen so many great and amazing processes over the last two years when it comes to innovation and how to deal with this or that. A lot of them are pure paperwork, like PowerPoint slides. I'm sure a lot of great thoughts went into them, but if it's too complicated, then nobody will adopt that. Sometimes less is truly more and it has to be a balance between a rough process and pragmatic approach. The most important thing is to motivate your employees and your colleagues because giving the right people the possibility to meet, cooperate, the freedom and resources to work on some topic and then show you whether there's something in it or not of relevance. Reconvene next month about results or milestones and don't get lost in the process too much. Just motivate people, because in the end, it's all about finding the right people and being attractive to an employer, giving them the possibility to shine, to work on things that could have relevance and then great things could happen.

About Volocopter and other startup investments

Chris: Of course, it's about the mixture, right? People, purpose, processes. You just mentioned startups being part of your innovation process as well. So finding new opportunities, uncovering new areas for investments. Let's talk about one of your investments, such as the Volocopter. Volocopter has an impressive list of investing shareholders, right? On that list is BlackRock, Jerico Capital, Geely, Daimler, Intel Capital and DB Schenker, too. Since DB Schenker is injecting funds into them as well, could you tell us the interest in them? Also, for those who are not too familiar with Volocopter, could you also provide us with a brief overview of who they are and what they do?

Erik: Volocopter is a really great startup. It's from Bruchsal and they're located in the middle of Germany, 70 kilometers south of Frankfurt. They started around 10 years ago with the idea of drones, and we all have seen some of them before, since they can be bought on commercial platforms for leisure purposes with a camera. However, they started to think larger with the technology they had on hand and attempted to explore other useful applications of these drones. Applications such as transportation of people, which would really be stretching the technology to its limits. Now the questions are: Is there a market for that? Is there a need for a kind of flying taxi? They have been dabbling and exploring that idea for more than 10 years already and started to invest in it by finding the right investors. That is how we, as DB Schenker, got involved as well with them. That was also per accident because we helped them to bring their equipment and first prototypes to conferences, to fairs, to exhibitions, etc. All we did at that point was a purely logistic service for them. However, as our understanding of their product and services grew, we started to become more and more interested in them.

We are also working on the development of a cargo drone, not for passengers. That concept is definitely of interest to us since, as DB Schenker, we are not in passenger transport but shipping commodities from A to B. That led us to enter into strategic discussions with Volocopter. We helped them to understand our logistical framework, the needs for it and the operational processes behind them; we really started to think about what might be in the future after that. You might not be aware but the average age of a German truck driver at the moment is around 58 in some regions, thus they are getting closer to retirement. We need to find alternatives on how to still continue to provide logistical solutions despite the shrinking levels of staff. This is even more relevant and tricky to deliver in urban areas on a fast mile delivery schedule. We need new ways of shipping since there's more and more diesel driving bans for trucks coming up in the immediate future. So it was just great timing to have a company like Volocopter on radar, since we already knew them. They told us honestly that they are working on a cargo drone for heavy lifting. They ask us for support. We had the pressure to innovate since we didn't have enough capacity and we needed to hit our sustainability targets.

We have the diesel driving vans and it made sense, so we told them that we needed to reinvent our product. It was almost like a startup within the startup in the drone business for cargo transportation. So we decided to invest into that business and make them part of that journey, where we'd be helping them as a startup to understand what logistics is all about. The drone has 18 rotors and it looks like a toy. However the topic of flying technology is fascinating, it's working, safe and quiet. It looked like we had found our alternative options. So we started to look around the globe to see if we could effectively deploy such drones since we'd be envisaging around 40 kilometers of distance and transporting a payload of maximum 200 kg with a drone flying autonomously.

That is something that we really like because it's supporting sustainability targets, since it's electric. The drones would also help out with the urban challenges that truck drivers are facing right now. We are hoping to get the certification for these drones. It is interesting to note that not even a few years ago, the consensus was that such drones would never see wide ranging use, especially flying taxis. They called it science fiction. Now that may become a reality faster than anyone might think.  Than most of you might think. Some weeks ago in Hamburg, the event of seeing such a drone in action and flying must have been a real eye opener. It is unsurprising that Geely and Daimler have started to invest in them too. Their area of expertise is usually cars  but in the future, they might reconsider and possibly invest into the VoloCity.

These are some of the reasons why these investors are investing into that business and that kind of technology. They will be available. This truly could be having far reaching implications, even with our three percent market share in the logistics business, we could still function as the vanguard to push that technology so that others could adopt it too. That would be a win-win for everybody involved in my opinion, including society. I'm really looking forward to seeing how that'll develop. It's also funny in a way, since we are this traditional old fashioned elephant compared to them being the speedboat and fast-paced. There's a major culture clash but those are good to bring about change in a positive way, since both sides would be learning from one another. The right people would be connecting and through transparency and emotional intelligence, great things can happen.

Chris: Definitely a lucrative investment opportunity into an impressive technology with great dynamics. What is it actually? Is a cargo drone classified as air transport or peripheral transport? What transportation mode would it fall under? I could imagine seeing these things flying in the city, thus I'd imagine there will be some paperwork involved to cover the legal stuff.

Erik: Very good question and I do not have a clear answer on that because at the moment there are some certifications that are ongoing. Of course, it's flying, thus that requires some process, such as all the security checks. Right now, most of these checks are based on ground transport operations because we're not flying that high and the distances are not that long. However, the law was not ready for such technologies, same as it wasn't ready for  cargo bikes or for autonomous driving. There's always going to be a lag between the law and brand new technology. We are working on that together with Volocopter on that legal stuff and hope that we can somehow tie that with our ground transportation operations since that would be the easiest way for us to leverage everything and make that technology available. If it was more purely considered air freight, then that would require X-Ray scans and security checks, etc., which isn't impossible but more challenging. That's why we want to keep it within the ground based transport category.

Chris: Got it. Recently I read that the velocity will actually be included in the upcoming upgrade for Microsoft Flight Simulator. I guess that's a smart move, right? What's the idea behind this?

Erik: There are so many cool ideas cropping up and it's the right step into the right direction. Let's not forget, it's still a startup with about 200 people already on board. But they are doing it properly by showing society that everything is possible and fanning the desire to explore and test out new things; essentially being part of that story.  It's a cool technology and a cool product. Integrating that into a Flight Simulator is an amazing and cool thing because you can see it work in a simulator but now imagine that working out in real life? That already gives you a bit of a proof of concept. That's a great move but it should also be helpful and supportive because in the early stages, even for passenger transportation in cities in the shape of an air taxi, you also need a pilot. It's not like a helicopter pilot license, but you need somehow the capability and the license to fly and that requires training. Ultimately, drones should operate autonomously without a pilot, because the pilot is always a person who is paying for the flight.

By eliminating the pilot and making more room for paying passengers, then that helps boost the business case even more. Having Microsoft on board and interested in that technology is awesome. It's the third dimension because collecting data of Earth is already available for ground transport. Now with the flying drones, you're collecting data that supports that method. The greatest difference between a drone and a conventional aircraft is that the latter flies in a direct line, whereas the drone can move in any direction and make frequent stops. Many companies are contemplating how that collected data can be purposefully used for their own business models. Overall it's great to know that Microsoft is keen to explore, test and be a part of such a journey.

How to stay innovative in the future

Chris: Got it! We have covered a lot today and I think the remaining key question is how can logistics be made more effective and less expensive? What would you say? What is your focus of innovation efforts in the future?

“New knowledge is gained by exploring things, testing things, connecting with people, with companies, collaboration, new business models and starting R&D to fund projects.”

– Erik Wirsing

Erik: That most important headline when it comes to innovation is always bringing new knowledge to an organization in the most straightforward and direct way to the right people within your organization. New knowledge is gained by exploring things, testing things, connecting with people, with companies, collaboration, new business models and starting R&D to fund projects. As we mentioned before with Hyperloop technology, if we were to implement that technology, would our 76000 staff know what it is? No, but someone in the company would know and that person should drive to educate their fellow colleagues as well and see if there's something in it for us. Maybe there isn't and it's a waste of time and resources. That exploratory mindset is something we want to foster, share and communicate within our network of colleagues and customers. It's all about transparency, being aware about trends and spotting impactful and beneficial opportunities.

Chris: And most importantly, stay hungry for innovation, right?

Erik: Absolutely. As you can see, that's my hashtag here: "Hungry for innovation." That's our hashtag that we always use when we're publishing something because I think the most important attitude when it comes to innovation, curiosity and exploring new things is to stay hungry for innovation and generally hungry for more knowledge. That is something that we really love doing and our supplies and customers appreciate that.

Erik's 'Innovation Rockstar' moment

Chris: Perfect. We are getting close to the end of this episode, but before we wrap up, I am really interested in your answer to our signature question, Eric. Looking back on your career so far at DB Schenker, what would you say was your greatest 'Innovation Rockstars' moment?

Erik: I think I have had several already. However, I think the most significant moment was when we were looking at electromobility about ten years ago. We started with that theme within our innovation department because we believed there will be an impact for the future. We started testing and eventually we discovered new things that even the board recognized. We released a scanner for truck drivers. Communication Systems had already been in use for fifteen years when we started to use the first scanners but the true Rockstars moment was when we really convinced the truck drivers about the value and benefits of these scanners. By explaining these values to the truck drivers, you could see their eyes light up, because they actually realized that it could be helping them. That's making my life easier. The last Rockstar moment is all about the Volocopter and all the cool technologies from the last weeks and months. I was giving a presentation at a conference and then that customer —I had no idea that he actually was a customer to begin with — approached me and expressed his surprise that DB Schenker was also interested in that technology and he introduced himself as one of our customers.

We talked a bit about his roofing business and he presented me with a few ideas that I could possibly see exploring with them in the immediate future. That in essence is the mindset that I was talking about. Always being on the lookout for new opportunities. It's just crazy that we could be using roofing technologies for our logistical needs, and I am excited about it.

Chris: Very impressive Rockstar moments. Thanks a lot for sharing and with that, we have reached the end of our episode. It felt like five minutes talking to you Eric. It was a pleasure to listen to you. Thank you very much for being my guest.

Erik:

Chris: For everybody listening and watching, if you want to learn more about this story or get in touch, simply leave us a comment on this episode or just drop us an email at  info@innovation-rockstars.show. That's it. Thanks for listening. See you in the next episode! Take care. Bye-bye.


About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Erik Wirsing is Vice President Global Innovation at DB Schenker.

The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an eduspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth?

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