A strategic plan for energy efficiency

Energy efficient supply chain design

May 22, 2023

Not only climate change, but also the current worldwide crises and conflicts underline the necessity of concepts and solutions for the economical and efficient use of energy. Logistics has been a driver of innovations and models in the field of sustainability for many years. Currently, Lucas Schreiber, scientific employee at Fraunhofer IML, is working on a “Planning concept for an energy-efficient supply chain design” for his dissertation. This could solve many problems for industry.

Energy demand has been rising for years, while the availability of fossil fuels has been declining. A situation that is becoming increasingly critical, especially in view of the current energy crisis. Making use of potentials for saving energy in supply chains is therefore becoming an important aspect for companies. From the point of view of corporate logistics, this is a rather strategic task. The concept that Lucas Schreiber wants to develop in his dissertation is intended to offer companies assistance that is as simple as it is effective.

3 questions for Lucas Schreiber

What makes your dissertation topic so interesting and exciting for you?

Lucas Schreiber: “Energy is currently a very relevant topic and is broadly discussed in the media. I would like to contribute to sustainably reduce energy consumption in areas such as supply chains and value creation networks, where there is a great deal of potential. Especially talking from a long-term perspective.”


What questions drive your research?

Lucas Schreiber: “To begin with, I would like to make energetic data measurable along the supply chain. This starts with the raw materials or the procurement of the products, continues with the production and ends with the distribution. In a second step, I would like to use the energy data model created from the whole supply chain to integrate it into analytical tools such as simulation, coupled with machine learning methods.”


How is the support and interest for your project at the institute and in the industry?

Lucas Schreiber: “The support is really amazing! As already mentioned, energy efficiency is a very current topic and there is also a lot of interest from industry regarding that topic. We are in contact with several companies with which we collaborated in research project. We intend to expand the old project in terms of a circular economy. This would allow us to identify even more potentials for saving energy.”

However, a master plan is not a magic formula: each company and its real system must be considered individually. For this purpose, a digital image of the processes is created for each company, like a digital twin of the entire value chain.

The model considers three target functions: Energy consumption, cost and service level. All three are set in relation to each other: Algorithms teach and learn themselves to calculate a wide variety of scenarios in promising configuration ranges. By means of sensitivity analyses, companies can immediately recognize what energy-reducing measures cost or how they influence the level of service. There are not exlusively negative trade-offs, but also synergy effects in which a measure has a positive impact on two or all three target functions.

Potentials for saving energy - two examples

Save up to 19% of energy

In the use case of the industrial group Thyssen Krupp with its Materials Services division, an energy savings potential of up to 19 percent was identified, which could be achieved without a significant increase in costs. Due to heavy and large products, energy could be saved in this use case by saving transports through optimized product allocation in the distribution centers. The 13,800 gigajoules saved in this case could supply 1,250 households with electricity per year.

Minus 5% energy input for raw materials

In the use case of Behr-Hella Thermocontrol GmbH, a developer and manufacturer of air-conditioning control units for a wide range of vehicles, transport is less of an issue because the product portfolio tends to specialize in small electronic components. These electronic components used in the product portfolio are far more of an issue as they consume a lot of energy. Therefore,  the greater potential for energy savings lies there. It amounts to five percent. In order to produce end products as (energy) efficiently as possible, the industry must therefore pay more attention to energy-efficient production and logistics chains.

The basis for the planning concept is the collection and availability of data: “You can't optimize anything if you don't have any data,” Lucas Schreiber sums it up. In 2024, the young scientist plans to present his dissertation. But companies don't have to wait until then to take measures to optimize their energy consumption: The expertise of the Fraunhofer researchers is available to them at any time.