Some things in life we encounter at every turn, yet we don’t spare them much thought as we go about our business. We simply assume that they are there and expect them to work at any time. This applies to logistics more than to any other industrial sector. Across all sectors, logistics ensures that goods and products are always exactly where they are needed. Industrial companies, for example, need bulk goods delivered for production, while consumers depend on the smooth distribution of final products to the shops. This makes logistics a central pillar of our specialised economy and of our prosperity. In order to ensure that this pillar remains stable in future as well, it is essential to secure its foundations, the conditions for logistics in our country or region, carefully and to further strengthen them in the long run.
The figures alone show the immense importance of logistics. For example, in 2011 the sector set a new record in Germany by generating an annual turnover of about 220 billion euros, exceeding the previous record year of 2008. Furthermore, with approximately 2.8 million employees, it is now Germany’s third largest employer after the automotive industry and the trade sector. This was made possible by two closely linked economic “mega trends”: the increasing differentiation of the supply chain and the consolidation of regional markets in the course of globalisation.
hese developments have taken place at a fast pace and are certainly not complete. They began only a few decades ago. As recently as the 1970s and early 1980s, for example, logistics as a business function was heavily concentrated on the physical processes of the flow of materials and goods. Back then, the focus was on overcoming time and space as efficiently as possible and optimising basic logistic operations such as transportation, handling, storage, packaging and commissioning. In the late 1980s, logistics started to develop more and more as an industrial sector in its own right. At the same time, there was a shift in how the sector’s importance within the economy was perceived. Previously, logistics was primarily seen as a normal service segment; now it was increasingly being regarded as a key cross-sector function in a value chain becoming ever more complex. It was no longer individual transport processes which took centre stage, but continuous distribution processes to ensure ideal availability of products and goods at all times. This trend continued in the 1990s and into the new millennium, with the control task of logistics – not only in regard to customers but across all areas and along the entire supply chain – evolving even more strongly.
In parallel to this, the removal of traditional borders has had crucial benefits for logistics. Considerable progress in the field of microelectronics made it easier to communicate, store and transmit huge amounts of data, thus enabling time and space to be overcome faster than ever before. This was accompanied by foreign trade liberalisation in many western industrial nations and new parts of the world being exploited as eastern markets opened up. These processes, known as globalisation, led to an enormous increase in the flow of goods and provided logistics with growth rates that were significantly higher than the increase in overall economic performance. They also enabled the development of supply chains reaching around the world, furnishing industry with goods and raw materials for their production processes through global procurement strategies.
Logistics has thus changed decisively time and again within a few decades and gained a key function within the bounds of our economic structure. Today, the exchange of goods is stronger than ever before. Logistics experts are increasingly growing into new roles beyond their traditional tasks of transportation, distribution and warehouse management, as the trend of continuous increases in efficiency forces companies to concentrate on core competencies more and more. This allows logistics experts to take over numerous added value services (such as pre-fabrication and installation) as part of outsourcing programmes, eventually making them industry’s “extended workbench”.
Many factors suggest that these developments will continue in the future. Activities such as supply chain management, just-in-time delivery and outsourcing will in all probability become even more important. Against this background, it must also be assumed that transportation of goods by road will continue to expand its market share, since it is still able to react to increasing or changing requirements better than rail or inland shipping.
Even though logistics has not yet exploited its full potential for growth, even today it can be seen that this sector will have to brace itself for new challenges in the coming years. Besides ever more complex safety requirements, these include above all the rise in energy costs and the future topic of protecting resources and the environment. In light of this, new delivery and goods management strategies, especially concepts for ecologically sustainable, “green” logistics, will enter general consciousness more and more.