DHL: Collaboration is key to enable quiet deliveries

DHL is at the forefront of the revolution in out-of-hours deliveries, but Christopher Walton discovers why it believes there is still a long way to go until it becomes the norm. By Christopher Walton.

Every day DHL has between 1,100 and 1,700 vehicles going into London. The UK’s largest (non-mail) operator of CVs has approximately 8,000 vehicles, roughly, so that proportion reflects London’s 22% share of the UK’s GDP.

Because deliveries into the capital account for a significant chunk of its Supply Chain business, DHL is at the forefront of the changes taking place in out-of-hours deliveries in London and it led the way during the Olympic Games in 2012.

Philip Roe, MD, innovation, strategy and business development (UK & Ireland Transport) at DHL Supply Chain, told MT that it strives to be the safest, most efficient and customer-focused operator – and if it wants to hit those targets in a quarter of its business, it has got to be leading the way. “If there are things that are changing how that business runs, you have got to be at the forefront of that,” he said. “The Olympics experience and legacy proved that things can be done, and that collaboration can work well.”

Now TfL is making strides in bringing the issue back to the forefront of operators’ business models. Three new out-of-hours delivery trials are to start in London, the first of which includes nine retail stores, four in inner London and five in outer London, and will involve deliveries earlier or later in the day than those being made.

Roe said DHL has had a strong response from customers, and it has a number of customers that want to be involved. “All different shapes and sizes of customers, in different sectors too, not just retail, some in automotive for example,” he said.

Standard practice

All of which begs the question: if there is so much enthusiasm from authorities, operators and customers for out-of-hours deliveries, why aren’t they standard practice? “The case has not yet been made,” said Roe. “Most supply chains are established and designed against a cycle of order, receipt and stock. To disrupt that cycle and to change it means either a big event, such as the Olympics, or a big motivation. That’s why the case has to be made.”

That is why the industry needs the Quiet Cities global summit, Roe said. He wants the summit to be the spark that sees the industry rise to the challenge, and operate out-of-hours in an urban environment in a safe, clean and quiet way. That would mean regulators rising to the challenge of relaxing some restrictions. If this happened, Roe said: “Then we could create a case that is efficient as well as safe, and also meets customers’ needs. Only when we get to the point will we see significant change.”

Operationally, one of the biggest barriers is receipt of goods and how to conduct this out-of-hours.

There are some solutions that have been around for a while, for example, driver deliveries can be made into lock-ups or specified delivery areas (which is how most catering deliveries are done, said Roe). Increasingly some delivery locations in London are operating 24 hours, either for trade, replenishment of goods or for security reasons.“There is certainly not a silver bullet on any of this, but there are different solutions that could be employed. If the hours of operation can be extended, so you are running a vehicle over multiple journeys, then the efficiency case goes a long way towards supporting those extra costs,” Roe added.“Also, it is undoubtedly safer, because it encourages segregation between freight and other road users. It improves fuel economy because you are not standing in traffic, you are moving, and you are not burning fuel unnecessarily.”

Fuel economy is key in a city that is not just congested, but sucks in freight with very little manufacturing output going out of the city in return. Reducing empty running is critical to efficient urban deliveries, Roe said: “One of our customers requires an average of five or six deliveries a day into London, but we collect five or six deliveries’ worth of waste and bring it back and recycle it.That makes that lorry mega-efficient because it is full most of the time.”

However, the success of out-of-hours deliveries will ultimately come down to one thing, according to Roe: collaboration. That means collaboration between regulators, operators, the owners of the goods and the receivers of the goods. “It is fundamental. It is key to making this happen.”