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Logistics centre on wheels.

  • 5. October 2016
  • Connectivity
  • Photos: Daimler
  • Text: Ernesto Singer

With the new digital concept and the futuristic Vision Van, Mercedes-Benz Vans evolves into a provider of comprehensive system solutions.

The clock is ticking. In the world of E-commerce, deliveries are a business involving hours and minutes. The math is simple: In future, the company that will be able to deliver faster and at the precise specified time will have the most satisfied customers. Mercedes-Benz Vans points the way to the future in this regard with a new digital logistics concept. The company evolves from a manufacturer of globally successful vans to a provider of comprehensive system solutions – with the futuristic Vision Van as its hi-tech marquee.

The Vision Van concept vehicle opens up new possibilities for transport in the urban environment: “The Vision Van embodies the intelligent, clean and fully connected van of tomorrow – with electric powertrain, fully automatic cargo space, integrated delivery drones and innovative communication features“, explains Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.

Already from the outside, the vehicle is an impressive appearance. Its silvery and shiny, smooth bodywork with subtle angular highlights and the distinctive bow along with black-panel radiator grille form an interesting contrast to the elongated and dark-tinted windscreen. The crowning glory for technology enthusiasts: two integrated delivery drones on the roof.

Fully connected command centre 

The interior, which is accessed through an automatic door on the co-driver’s side, features a driver workplace with an intriguing, futuristic layout: steering wheel, pedals and centre console with shift gate are replaced by a joystick to the left of the driver. The dashboard, which spans the entire width of the vehicle in a sweeping arc, is trimmed with a fine-pore textile that looks like a black surface when the Vision Van is not in use.

During operation, it displays information such as speed, route details or real-time updates on the flight of the drones in blue for the driver. In addition, warnings light up in the stainless-steel floor when pedestrians or bicyclists might impede exiting the vehicle.

The fully digital logistics centre on wheels –  always connected with all required partners – communicates with the outside world also via the LED matrix in the black-panel radiator grille, kind of a bulletin board 2.0.

The cargo space management system prepares dispensing the parcels during the trip.

Room to move

The delivery driver of tomorrow has lots of room to move in the airy and generously sized driver workplace of the Vision Van. In the bulkhead behind him is the parcel dispenser, where he accepts the needed shipments, which are dispensed by the cargo space system automatically. Next to the dispenser chute is an info terminal positioned at an ergonomically favourable height. This is where all the information from the automatic systems come together to be viewed and checked, if needed.

Clever loading and route guidance in the age 4.0

As hard as they might try, dispatchers and drivers of current van concepts won’t come even close to the performance of one-shot loading, which features a precisely fitting shelf that is stocked automatically and inserted into the Vision Van fully autonomously. Volker Mornhinweg spells it out: “Manually loading a delivery vehicle takes up to 90 minutes today – with one-shot loading, that time is cut to just around five minutes“.

While the huge liftgate closes, the driver is already in his seat and starts his tour as soon as he receives visual confirmation that the lock of cargo space has engaged. By that time, the on-board computer system, provided with data from the cloud, has already calculated a route that represents a perfect combination of manual and drone deliveries.

Delivery also by drone

During the drive to the next stop, the automatic cargo space management system prepares dispensing the shipments at the parcel hatch and the drone docking station. As a result, there is no longer a need to waste time on tediously resorting and looking for the right parcel. The delivery driver takes the shipment conveniently from the dispenser chute, and delivers it after looking at his smart watch, which displays the address, name and floor of the recipient. The driver is able to deliver the shipment at the precise time specified already during online shopping.

At the same time, the two drones take off from the roof of the Vision Van – and head to the programmed delivery address, which can be as far as ten kilometres away. Once at their destinations, the drones drop off their shipments at a suitable station of the recipients, fly back to the Vision Van and automatically latch themselves back to the roof; even if the van might in the meantime have already proceeded to the next or stop or the one after that.

Clean and quiet electric powertrain

The Mercedes-Benz Vision Van runs its routes virtually silent and locally emission-free. It travels swiftly through the urban environment with a system output of 75 kW (102 hp) and a peak torque of 270 Newton metres – for up to 270 kilometres thanks to a modular battery system that can be modified and tailored to the particular use case. After the end of the driver’s shift, the batteries are recharged either wirelessly or by cable.

Potential access restrictions for vehicles with combustion engine make the Vision Van even more attractive. Thanks to the virtually silent operation, even deliveries late in the evening do not have the potential to disturb anyone in residential areas – even if strict noise abatement statutes are in force. This facilitates preferred delivery options such as same-day deliveries.

The Vision Van runs its route quietly and locally emission-free.

Sharp to the last second

The fully automatic high-bay shelving system in the van of tomorrow and the associated digitally clocked planning, which also accounts for changes on short notice, makes the Vision Van a logistics centre on wheels. The Vision Van’s significance is enhanced decisively considering that the last mile in particular is the most expensive part of the entire delivery chain for the transport industry. “We found that the Vision Van can increase the delivery productivity on the last mile by up to 50 percent”, explains Volker Mornhinweg.

' Productivity of the delivery on the last mile can be enhanced by up to 50 percent '

Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans

Staying in the fast lane with the adVANce strategy

To be able to continue to meet the increasing requirements in the van business in a pioneering role, Mercedes-Benz Vans starts the strategic adVANce future initiative. It involves no less than the evolution from a classic vehicle manufacturer into a provider of comprehensive system solutions for freight and passenger transport. adVANce is subdivided into three innovative pillars:

1) digital@vans – integration of digital technologies with the van: automated deliveries, reordering processes, and intelligent parts management systems directly into vans.

2) solutions@vans – hardware-based solution for vans: cargo space systems, drones, and robots for deliveries from the vehicle.

3) mobility@vans – mobility concepts for people and goods: relief for public transit through individual passenger transport, goods transport on the last mile, innovative leasing and rental models, including for short-term use.

Cross-industry concepts and practical solutions for all problems of these innovative business segments of Mercedes-Benz Vans are pooled in a new organisational form under the umbrella with the three-pointed star – in Stuttgart, Berlin, and Silicon Valley. Some 200 employees are currently working on the implementation of the adVANce projects. They combine the classic strengths of the global player with the free-thinking qualities of agile and flexible start-ups

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