Research Projects

Research Projects

From lignite to blockchain territory

© MWIDE NRW R. Sondermann
© MWIDE NRW R. Sondermann

On September 2, 2019 the project "Blockchain Living Lab Rheinisches Revier" was started in Düsseldorf. The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia is funding the establishment of the Blockchain Living Lab for the testing of practical applications of Blockchain technology with 1.2 million euros over a period of one year.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart, Minister for Economics, Innovation, Digitisation and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, presented the official funding decision to the project consortium consisting of the Fraunhofer Institutes for Applied Information Technology FIT (Bonn), Material Flow and Logistics IML (Dortmund), the Institute for Scientific-Technical Trend Analyses INT (Euskirchen), the RWTH Aachen, the Ruhr University Bochum and the University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen.

The sectors of energy, logistics, services of general interest, finance, industry 4.0 as well as the associated business models prevailing in the Rhenish territory will be investigated in the Blockchain Living Lab with regard to the potential of blockchain applications. The aim is, among other things, to promote and further develop digital innovations in a temporally and geographically limited environment. Here, new technologies and business models are put to the test and validated with relevant actors in the state of NRW.

Industry 4.0 Recht-Testbed launched

Industry 4.0 Recht-Testbed Kick-Off
© Fraunhofer IML
Industry 4.0 Recht-Testbed Kick-Off

The Internet of Things is becoming more and more autonomous. Machines generate orders independently, book suitable production capacities, place orders and sign contracts with each other. However, while there is a clear legal framework in the rest of the business world, the legal situation for signing contracts between machines is currently less clear. Which law applies? What do legally secure solutions look like? Who is liable if damage occurs as a result of machine decisions? These and other questions are to be answered by the "Industry 4.0 Recht-Testbed".

In this context, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi) is supporting the "Industry 4.0 Recht-Testbed", an application-oriented research project that serves as a model. In addition to the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, the project is supported by the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST, also from Dortmund, the Saarland University with the Institute for Legal Informatics, and the Ruhr University Bochum with the Horst Görtz Institute for IT Security.

In the testbed, engineers simulate negotiations and the conclusion of contracts for machines with a clear focus on the analysis of legal problems. Lawyers evaluate the processes on the basis of the current legal situation and point out legal uncertainties and give recommendations for the development of new legal standards. However, the project will also result in very concrete approaches and tools, model clauses and contracts. Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular will thus have a basis on which they can assess legal risks resulting from communication between machines in the areas of civil law and civil procedure law as well as IT and data protection law - as is the case today with contracts and negotiations between people.

The project, which is also supported by BMWi, started on 01.06.2019 and runs until 31.05.2023. The total funding amount is 5.5 million euros. In addition to BMWi, the project partners can also count on the support of the Industry 4.0 platform, a joint project of the BITKOM, VDMA and ZVEI trade associations and the International Data Space Association sponsored by the German government.

Commerzbank and Fraunhofer IML conduct joint research in Trade Finance Innovation Lab

© Commerzbank
Prof. Dr. Michael Henke (Fraunhofer IML) and Nikolaus Giesbert (Commerzbank)

Commerzbank was the first financial institution to establish an Enterprise Lab at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML. The partners are thus striving for close cross-sector cooperation on logistics, supply chain management, supply chain finance and digital innovations.

With the "Trade Finance Innovations Lab", Commerzbank as one of the leading European international trade banks is now also part of the Enterprise Lab Center at Fraunhofer IML and is the first bank to cover the area of financial services with a focus on trade finance business, the processing and financing of international trade transactions. In future, application-oriented Fraunhofer IML scientists from the fields of logistics, supply chain management and blockchain technology will work closely with trade finance specialists from Commerzbank and its research and development unit "Main-Incubator".

In the "Trade Finance Innovations Lab", new payment and financing solutions for the trade finance business are to be developed and brought to market on the basis of innovative technologies such as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), Smart Contracts and the Internet of Things (IoT). At the same time, standards and framework conditions for the digitization of international supply chain management and the corresponding financing instruments are to be actively formed.

The "Fraunhofer Enterprise Labs" have established themselves as a successful model since 2013: Commerzbank is a member of the European Pallet Association e.V. (EPAL), Deutsche Telekom, Dachser SE, Rhenus SE & Co. KG, Boehringer-Ingelheim, the BMW Group, DB Schenker AG, Audi AG, the Würth Group and Sick AG are the eleventh companies to have opted for this innovative form of joint research between industry and science.

Trackchain - Traceable Event Recording for Supply Chains

© Fraunhofer IML

Supply chains in modern production processes today consist of complete value chains that contain multitude of suppliers, manufacturers, traders, customs authorities, logistics and financial service providers. Tracking flows of goods across the entire supply chain is currently virtually impossible, not to mention cross-company recording of supply chain events.

Trackchain is a blockchain-based infrastructure for storing events and controlling the release of event data to authorized users. This means that every event stored in Trackchain is stored traceably and indisputably. In this way, any sequences of events can be recorded in a traceable and manipulation-protected manner - even independently of supply chains. The possible application scenarios range from audit logs, which are created during the administration of a technical system, to the implementation of "clearing houses", which record business transactions such as billable transactions, to the tracking of events in supply chains.

The joint project with the Fraunhofer Institutes AISEC, FIT and IIS combines two key technologies for the first time: a track & trace system based on modern sensor technology and the tamper-proof functionalities of blockchain technology. The trackchain thus enables real-time product tracking with simultaneous seamless, trustworthy product traceability along the entire supply chain.

Blockchain-based data exchange in Supply Chain Management

© Fraunhofer IML
© Fraunhofer IML

Starting in September 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) and PIEL will jointly develop a blockchain-based solution for cross-company electronic data exchange that promises enormous savings potential through the reduction of interface costs and the seamless, transparent automation of order processing.

Dortmund, September 2018

The cross-company electronic data exchange as well as the communication between different systems and IoT devices currently represent a major challenge, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Many processes are still processed and exchanged analogously and paper-based, require manual input or corrections and tie up operational resources in this way.

As soon as SMEs want to securely exchange data with each other, they are faced with a major challenge. The existing infrastructure is often very heterogeneous, many types of interfaces exist in parallel and there are hardly any cross-industry solutions. Blockchain technology can be a way out of this problem. It is cost-effective, individually adaptable to the needs of SMEs and yet secure. The technical retailer PIEL and the Fraunhofer IML are working together on a pilot project to develop the basis for this important field of application of blockchain technology using the example of PIEL's customer Warsteiner.


Smart objects and smart finance approaches (SOFiA)

© Fraunhofer IML

Kickoff for the research project “Planning and control of value networks by integration of smart objects and smart finance approaches (SOFiA)”

Dortmund, February 01st 2016.


Within a given value network, delays occur during the planning process of a sea freight shipment. The sea freight container will not reach the planned vessel in time. Replanning, rebooking and the corresponding payments have to take place on short notice. This scenario describes the classic and time-consuming daily life in the logistics and supply chain management. Via innovative smart objects and smart finance technologies, the container itself becomes the dispatcher. It recognizes delays, analyses action alternatives and chooses the best transportation route. Subsequently, it assigns a carrier (logistics service provider)   and handles the payment via mobile Business-to-Business (B2B) payment technologies in real-time. The logistical objects are equipped with all the logistical and financial information to allow for a completely autonomous decentralized decision and transaction. In addition to this transport case of application, the SOFiA-project also focuses on the fleet control of harvesting machines for the transport and storage of agricultural commodities.

Therefore, new industry 4.0-based management approaches regarding the self-control and self-organization of logistics, production and the appropriate tasks of payment transactions and supply chain finance are addressed by the SOFiA research project. It is part of the subsidy program “Service innovation by means of digitalisation” by the German federal department for education and research. The project’s objective is the improvement of the process handling within complex manufacturing and logistics networks through integration of smart objects and digital B2B smart finance approaches.

The project was initiated in November of 2015 and has a total duration of three years with the project consortium consisting of the agricultural machinery manufacturer CLAAS E-Systems KgaA mbH & Co KG, the logistics service provider Ekol Logistik GmbH, the financial IT solutions provider Wincor Nixdorf International GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML).

The consortium partners’ subgoals, aligned with the project objective, are:

  • Development of management procedures for industry 4.0 based on decision-making methods for intelligent logistics objects for the autonomous logistical and financial control within complex value networks (Fraunhofer IML)
  • Intelligent machine fleet control by means of autonomous logistics objects from a manufacturer’s point of view (CLAAS)
  • Intelligent logistics control by means of autonomous logistics objects from a transport service provider’s point of view (Ekol)
  • Innovative, decentralized B2B payment methods for autonomously operating logistics units within value networks (Wincor Nixdorf)

On behalf of the consortium leader Fraunhofer IML, the project is headed by Prof. Dr. Michael Henke (Institute director) and the department heads Marco Motta (Supply Chain Engineering) and Dr. Axel T. Schulte (Procurement & Finance in Supply Chain Management). Additional information on the research project will be published at