Reinventing the wheel

From central Europe, the Metropolis Ruhr offers all of the benefits of a successful logistics site: dense infrastructure, innovative companies and top research. Mobility and logistics are among the most important economic sectors in the region accordingly.

Not all great inventions are born in garages. ‘Lots of daylight, a panoramic view of the water,’ young entrepreneur Sven Spiekermann, 25, enthuses about the open-plan offices and meeting rooms in the Wehrhahnmühle complex in Duisburg’s Inner Harbour. The 550 square metre listed brick building is home to 13 start-ups working on developing new logistics solutions.

Startport innovation platform

A good year ago, Duisburger Hafen AG founded Startport, a platform for forging ideas. The twelve-month support programme for selected fledgling companies offers rent-free office space and the support of mentors from partner companies like steel distributor Klöckner, the Evonik energy group, Initiativkreis Ruhr or Duisburger Hafen AG.

One of the lucky start-ups is Heuremo. In researching goods traffic, Sven Spiekermann and his two founding partners found that delivery vehicles in urban areas are often only loaded to 30% capacity. ‘So delivery vans are driving through our cities with 70% free capacity,’ Spiekermann explains. Heuremo wants to change that with a virtual platform that fully automates the task of route planning in a cross-company approach. So three HGVs that were previously travelling similar routes and had nothing to do with each other now become one fully loaded vehicle. By Heuremo’s calculations, the savings potential is enormous: each year there are almost half a million kilometres of travel through a city like Duisburg that could be optimised.

‘We are looking for innovative and extraordinary ideas for digitisation and the future of logistics,’ says Peter Trapp, Managing Director of Startport. For their part, the young entrepreneurs hope to find a network of experts from established companies and potential customers in the Ruhr region.

Duisburg holds the world’s largest inland port

RS1: The longest cycling super-highway in the world

Start-up Heuremo is based in Duisburg’s Inner Harbour

Duisburg holds the world’s largest inland port

RS1: The longest cycling super-highway in the world

Start-up Heuremo is based in Duisburg’s Inner Harbour

A strong logistics hub

A touch of yesterday and tomorrow – both can be felt in the Metropolis Ruhr. Even in as early as 1808 entrepreneur Mathias Stinnes took advantage of the attractive geographical location on the Rhein and in the Ruhr and built a large domestic trade fleet. Today over 3,000 logistics companies are established in the region, including industry giants like Rhenus and DB Schenker. Logistics services are needed, for example, by local retail chains like Aldi and Tengelmann. The region’s historical expertise lies in steel logistics: the automotive and tool industries around the world are supplied from the Ruhr.

The close proximity of major parcel carriers like UPS and DHL in the Metropolis Ruhr also benefits the online behemoth Amazon, for example, with its logistics centre in Dortmund. Home to five million residents, the Metropolis Ruhr itself is an attractive sales market and has links to the rest of Germany and Europe thanks to its dense transport network. Not least, Duisburg holds the world’s largest inland port.

Logistics as a job creator

Mobility and logistics are two of the most important job creators in the Metropolis Ruhr. Just under ten per cent of all workers in the region were employed in these fields in 2017, from efficient packers to highly qualified academics. The industry grew by 3.1 per cent compared to the previous year and was above-average for Germany (plus 2.7 per cent) with around 168,000 jobs. Logistics provides the bulk of the jobs, but the related fields of mobility services and mobility management are growing as well.

In the era of traffic jams on major roads and in urban centres, and debates on climate protection and diesel bans, calls for new concepts are beckoning to logistics companies, the automotive industry, bicycle and motorbike manufacturers, software providers and transport companies. What’s needed is optimally integrated mobility with minimal CO2 emissions.

Networked mobility

Under the banner of ‘green logistics’, the objective in the Metropolis Ruhr is, for example, to achieve the optimal distribution of goods across the various transport channels: road, rail, water and air. For metal companies in the region, the development of new, lightweight materials for vehicle construction is at the top of the research list. Intensive work is also being carried out on fuel cell, hybrid and electric approaches to propelling vehicles on two or four wheels. This in turn is inextricably tied to communication systems that connect the different means of transport and the vehicles to each other.

The Opel giant made Bochum famous as an automotive city. Now after the closure of the Opel plant in Laer at the end of 2014, a Volkswagen subsidiary is gearing up to revive this reputation. VW Infotainment GmbH, founded in 2014, specialises in the wireless connection of the car with its environment, providing traffic information and maintenance recommendations in real time.

Alongside autonomous driving and e-mobility, the networked car is a key technology for the automotive sector. According to management consulting firm McKinsey, the global market for ‘connectivity components and services’ will grow from the latest calculation of 30 billion euros to 170 billion euros by 2020. VW Infotainment is also growing at rapid pace: since its founding, its staff have doubled to over 400 employees and there are dozens of available positions for test engineers and software developers. Managing Director Tobias Nadjib explains why Bochum was chosen for this activity: ‘It has a large qualified workforce, good infrastructure and a great academic environment.’

Logistics of the future

Like other industries, the mobility sector benefits from the intensive exchange between the worlds of academia and business that the Ruhr region offers. In the EffizienzCluster LogistikRuhr initiative, for example, more than 180 companies work together with over 600 academics from 20 research and educational institutions to develop the logistics of the future. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund is the world’s largest research institute in this field.

Innovations are tested directly in the real-world laboratory of the Ruhr: ‘It’s a real challenge with so many densely located cities,’ says Daniela Kirsch, who researches topics like low-noise night-time logistics at the Fraunhofer Institute. Her team recently used an electric 18-tonne HGV to supply a retail chain’s inner-city branches between the hours of ten o’clock at night and midnight. The conclusion: ‘It’s feasible, both technologically and in terms of complying with regulations,’ says the logistics expert with a degree from the Technical University (TU) of Dortmund.

Less traffic, less noise, better air: ‘Mobility and quality of life are inextricably linked,’ emphasises Georg Nesselhauf from the Mobilität-Werk-Stadt initiative, where city residents, city councils and companies work together to achieve sustainable mixed mobility in the Metropolis Ruhr.

Mobility without car ownership

Having a driving licence is becoming less important for younger generations, according to a study by the German Federal Ministry of Transport. The growing desire for mobility without car ownership meets a wide range of options in the Ruhr region. BOGESTRA, for example, one of Germany’s largest transport companies which is based in Bochum, is working on developing an app that by 2020 should make it possible to travel throughout Germany using different means of public transport – with just one ticket.

The ‘RUHRAUTOe’ project initiated by the renowned CAR Institute at the University of Duisburg-Essen by Professor Ferdinand Dudenhöffer aims to help residents like students in the Metropolis Ruhr come to grips with hiring electric vehicles. ‘Anyone who doubts whether they would be able to visit their grandmother in Sauerland from Gelsenkirchen can try it for themselves and see that it is possible,’ says project manager Andreas Allebrod. Bicycle hire company metropolradruhr is also partnering with universities and modernising its fleet so that bicycle locks can be operated directly using an app.

‘We need the bicycle as a fully-fledged transport option,’ says Martin Tönnes, the head of planning for the Regional Association Ruhr who manages the ‘Radschnellweg 1’ project. From 2020, this project will connect the cities between Duisburg and Hamm by means of a 100-kilometre-long cycling super-highway. With its completion, up to 50,000 commuters are expected to cycle the route on a daily basis. The longest cycling super-highway in the world is piquing international interest: Tönnes has already been visited in Essen by groups from Japan and Australia, and American bloggers were excited by the ‘German bike autobahn’.

With digitisation and by bundling HGV routes together, Heuremo founder Sven Spiekermann also wants to ‘solve a problem in the Ruhr region and bring the solution to Germany and the rest of the world’. That’s how he puts it – and he sounds like the successful entrepreneurs before him. But his office in Duisburg’s Inner Harbour looks much nicer than Steve Jobs’ garage.