Skip to main content

Topic outline

  • Project Summary, Objectives and Expected Impacts

    • Synchromodal transport employs multiple transport modes in a flexible and dynamic way in order to induce a modal shift towards more environmentally friendly transport modes without compromising on responsiveness and quality of service. It enables optimal integration of different transport modes and infrastructure by the use of real-time (internet of things) data to improve capacity usage, flow of transport means and enhance their use cost-effectively. With this research project we combine forces with three universities (VUB, KU Leuven and UHasselt) that have expertise in different aspects of synchromodal transport. The objective is to develop a digital twin to further enhance the synchromodal concept and make synchromodal transport a reality in Flanders to boost the competitiveness and sustainability of its logistics sector.

      Synchromodal transport involves a shift from static ‘predict & prepare’ transport decisions to dynamic and flexible ‘sense & respond’ solutions where the selection of transport modes is based on real-time positions and availabilities of assets (barges, trains, trucks, terminals). However, real- time mode selection requires involvement of extra parties in the process to solve transparency issues as to who has the cargo and where is it located. The planning thus has to be synchronized in a sophisticated manner and with all necessary parties involved.

      To date the synchromodal concept remains rather theoretical and it is not well measurable due to the lack of an appropriate platform to provide reliable assessments in a highly dynamic and real- time environment. Such a platform would be able to mimic the current real system, but also simulate how it could evolve. The objective of this project is to develop such a platform in order to test dynamic planning algorithms and communication technologies which are also the main enablers for implementing synchromodal transport. The platform will operate like a digital twin that mimics the physical reality on a digital platform. It will address questions such as how much to transport, when and by using which transport mode? How can we integrate replenishment decisions and inventory cost calculation within the transport planning process? How can collaboration between shippers and/or logistics service providers in an open logistics network enhance the sustainability and cost-efficiency of supply chains?

      The project will focus on organizational and technical enablers for seamless synchromodal transport services in Flanders. Given the real-time dynamics and flexible nature of synchromodal transport, different transport modalities and actors need to work together and adapt according to unexpected events and contextual information that affect transport processes. These events and contextual information are related to negative as well as positive perturbations that shape freight movement and transport mode selection, such as newly incoming orders, transport delays, cancellations, collaborative bundling opportunities, accidents, water levels, strikes and many more.

      Crucial elements in this regard are situational awareness of the current system state and projections of how the system will evolve once different actors take different actions. We will consider individual company objectives at micro level and network objectives at macro level.

      Our platform will be represented by a digital twin in order to provide a testbed for synchromodal opportunities within a risk-free environment. A digital twin is a virtual environment that mirrors the real physical system (a physical twin) and its processes by updating its virtual real-time status from various sources of information regarding weather forecasts, congestion levels, positions of assets (barges, trains, trucks) and their ongoing working conditions. By means of the digital twin, effects of sensor technology and information exchange can be studied in combination with physical flows. Such a risk free environment allows for analysis and evaluation of triggering events (new orders, disruptions, delays...) which induce physical movements, and vice-versa, physical movements may trigger information flows once certain assets arrive at a specific location or enter a geo-fence.

      A focal point of the digital twin is aimed at detecting and measuring emergent behavior of individual business processes (at the point of action) on an aggregated macro level where more unique individual processes converge and form the overall system pattern. The digital twin will offer emergence control methods that will take into account local (cost, lead-times) and global (emissions/externalities) objectives at tactical and operational levels. The decisions will be influenced by the digital twin’s design that will incorporate analytical and computational modelling techniques in order to create a robust virtual environment that may be later on connected to real- time data fetching tools so that LSPs and shippers can query their assets in real-time, run multiple scenarios in a simulated environment, and take decisions in the real physical system; the digital twin will then adapt to the newly changed state.

      The innovative digital twin environment will combine features of Geographic Information Systems, agent-based and discrete event models as well as smart algorithms that will ensure freight flows are combined and synchronized efficiently, resulting in higher vehicle fill rates, a shift towards more environmentally friendly transport modes, less trucks on the road and a significant decarbonization of freight transport. Having a great level of detail provided by the digital twin, we can capture complex interrelations since individual business process will not be aggregated or omitted.

      The model calibration, validation and consequent practical implications will be assessed in three case studies in close cooperation with VIL and its members. The case studies will touch upon maritime, continental and retail supply chains. These diverse case studies will facilitate broadening of the current synchronization of freight movements and network planning of LSPs, by also accounting for the supply chain dimension such as smart replenishment and inventory management in order to create a more holistic door-to-door applications for shippers.




      • Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), MOBI research centre – Scientific coordinator 
      • Universiteit Hasselt (UHasselt)
      • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven)
      •  VIL – Industry coordinator

      • Colruyt Group
      • H.Essers
      • Lineas
      • NorthSeaPort
      • Van Moer Logistics
      • Ahlers
      • Solvice
      • Aurubis
      • Move intermodal
      • De Vlaamse Waterweg
      • Shipit Multimodal Logistics
      • Port of Zeebrugge
      • NxtPort
      • Port of Antwerp

  • ALICE members as partners of DISpATch

  • Presentations, Documents & Leaflets

  • Why is this Project Relevant for ALICE & the Physical Internet?

    Development of a platform represented by a Digital Twin component in order to provide a testbed for synchromodal opportunities within a risk-free environment. The Digital Twin will serve as an interface where different models, their data, granularities as well as processes are integrated. The Digital Twin will contain necessary information and models that can solve different tasks related to inventory management, freight transport and network planning. It will measure the real-time synchromodal complexity and evaluate various decisions and offer alternatives by making use of mathematical, simulation and machine learning models.

  • Project Q&A: Ask Your questions here!