VIL, Flanders’ spearhead cluster for logistics, works together with its 608 – and counting – members to tackle challenges in green, digital and hinterland logistics as well as urban freight.
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VIL, where logistics and transport innovation go full throttle
The logistics spearhead cluster’s 608 members are incredibly varied. “People often think the logistics sector is limited to transport companies, but our members also include shippers, and retailers like BASF, Pfizer, Samsonite and Colruyt. This makes sense: smooth supply chain management is a vital part of their business models,” Liesbeth asserts. “While we do count large international companies among our members – H.Essers, Katoen Natie, Atlas Copco and Umicore, to name a few – the larger share of VIL’s database is made up of SMEs. Additionally, we collaborate with a variety of specialized partners ranging from knowledge institutions – such as universities, colleges and research centers like imec and VITO – to IT service providers or warehouse constructors.”
By regularly asking for feedback from its members, VIL tailors innovation projects to suit its members’ needs. “For example, we worked with the university VUB to create the Logistics Sustainability Index. This model creates a score that reflects the sustainability of a company’s logistics activities. Efficient energy use, low CO2, NOX and particulate matter emissions, low mobility impacts, reduced noise pollution and the ways that raw materials are used and waste is managed: they all contribute to a positive ranking. This in turn allows our members and other companies to evaluate and showcase their sustainable ways of working, which can also help them win tenders and expand their businesses,” Liesbeth illustrates.
People often think the logistics sector is limited to transport companies, but our members also include manufacturing companies and retailers.
There’s one part of the membership base that VIL is particularly proud of: start-ups. Liesbeth: “The logistics sector has a growing number of start-ups that are working on IT solutions for transport planning, track and trace and more. They are also looking to answer urban logistics issues – with bicycle couriers, for example. VIL wants to offer them a marketplace and connect them with other, larger firms to help them expand their businesses. That’s why we’ve set up a start-up membership that allows these companies to participate in projects at a lower cost.”
One of the ways VIL brings these innovative start-ups into contact with more well-established logistics companies is through LogiLAUNCH. “Once a year, VIL organizes LogiLAUNCH, a sort of speed date event involving 20 established companies and 20 start-ups who pitch their ideas,” Liesbeth explains. “It’s a great networking opportunity which so far has resulted in several successful partnerships!”
VIL offers logistics start-ups support and brings them into contact with larger, international companies through initiatives like LogiLAUNCH.
Its broad and SME-heavy member base (69%) also means that VIL goes about its spearhead cluster operations in an adaptive way. “Our approach is practical to the core,” Liesbeth elaborates. “This means we have a fairly high technology readiness level or TRL of approximately 6 to 7 on a 10-point scale.
“To lean into this operational method even more, VIL’s 28 employees also all have operational logistics backgrounds,” Liesbeth continues. “That allows us to go beyond typical project management tasks and get involved in the projects themselves: actively taking part and operating machinery, for example. Of course, we’re not experts at everything, so for algorithm development or customs queries – to name a few examples – we enlist the help of partners.”
VIL’s status as a spearhead cluster has also opened international doors. Liesbeth: “We currently hold the vice chair in the working group Hubs, Corridors and Synchromodality of the European technology platform ETP-Alice. This platform strives to realize zero-emissions logistics by 2050 by propagating, guiding and implementing the Physical Internet® concept in Europe by 2030. As vice chair, VIL is in the driver’s seat for both the development of ETP-Alice’s strategy and the acceptance of its practical roadmap. Through our active engagement and our coordinating and supporting role for the European Commission, we also build a bridge for and with our members.”
At VIL, we go beyond traditional project management tasks of spearhead clusters and like to get involved ourselves.
However, VIL also wants to promote logistics innovation closer to home. That’s why the spearhead cluster is working on Log!Ville, a demonstration and experience center in Boom (Flanders), which will open in September 2020. “At Log!Ville, any logistics-related SME will be able to test the latest technologies, including but not limited to robot suits, smart glasses, drones and AGVs,” Liesbeth elaborates. “It will be possible to co-create solutions in the space as well, supported by VIL experts. In establishing this center, we want to show companies in Flanders and beyond that innovation is closer and more accessible than they think.”
With Log!Ville, we want to show companies in Flanders and beyond that innovation is closer and more accessible than they think.