Innovation in last mile deliveries

Feature

With environmental and air quality measures in place in many cities, companies are having to develop innovative solutions to last mile deliveries and urban operations

The United Kingdom is the third largest e-commerce market in the world. The increase of online shopping and home deliveries have played a significant role in contributing to the growth of last-mile deliveries.
    
Needless to say, with this comes challenges. Urban centres are susceptible to suffering from poor air quality, traffic, and parking issues. An increase in deliveries contributes to these problems.
    
In the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Strategy, it says that by 2030, the ‘last mile’ of deliveries will be largely decarbonised through new delivery models, supported by accurate data and digital innovations driving greater efficiencies.
    
By the same timeframe, the strategy says that HGVs will be increasingly zero emission and cities will have the logistics solution that best fits them, allowing places to become more people-centred while still delivering goods rapidly
and reliably.
    
With this recognition that the last mile is a vital part of the transport decarbonisation puzzle, the industry has responded with innovative ways to ‘green’ the last mile.

What does Amazon do?
Amazon has announced the opening of three further micromobility delivery hubs in Manchester and London, which will expand it UK e-cargo bike fleet.
    
The e-cargo bikes and walkers are now expected to make more than two million deliveries a year. These deliveries will take traditional delivery vans off the nation’s roads, alleviate city centre traffic congestion and improve air quality.
 
The hubs join Amazon’s existing central London e-cargo bike fleet which was recently announced in July. Amazon has already made more than five million deliveries so far in 2022 using its e-cargo bikes and electric van fleet within London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone.
     
Making e-cargo bike deliveries to Manchester’s customers for the first time, Amazon’s electric delivery fleet will operate across the City of Manchester. New delivery hubs based in London’s Wembley and Southwark will also more than triple the e-cargo bike fleet making deliveries to Amazon’s customers across the capital.
     
More than 1,000 Amazon electric delivery vans are already in operation on UK roads, in addition to five fully electric Heavy Goods Vehicles – these 37-tonne vehicles are among the first in the UK, the first in Amazon’s fleet, and replace traditional diesel trucks.

Electric vans
DHL Express has announced the roll-out of 270 new electric vans which will be used in its last-mile fleet.
    
Following last year’s introduction of 50 electric vans to operate out of sites across the UK, this next phase is helping the business reach its goal of a 100 per cent electric UK-wide courier fleet by 2030.
     
The 270 new vans service over 30 different locations, including London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.
     
The Ford E Transits have a range of 140 miles and a payload of approximately 1000kg, similar to the diesel vans they are replacing. The bodies have been customised for ease of use for drivers and to ensure continued high service levels. Drivers are provided with training to ensure they are familiar with the new vehicles and confident in their capabilities.
     
DHL has also been focussed on developing its infrastructure to support the EV roll-out and in addition to stand-alone charging points across the Service Centre network, now operates 10 fully integrated EV-ready sites, with an additional three opening this spring, and 13 more planned later this year.
 
Rental hub innovation
A new mobility-as-a-service hub concept has opened in London, which enables individual couriers or delivery firms to rent small delivery EVs, such as electric bikes, cargo ebikes, mopeds or scooters, for last mile deliveries.
    
The hub, opened by technology company Port, has been launched in partnership with parking operator Q-Park at their Leicester Square car park which they are repurposing as a Mobility Hub.
     
The EVs are hired on a weekly or monthly subscription through the Port app, and the vehicle, parking, charging, maintenance and software are all provided by Port.
     
Once the courier has picked the vehicle from the hub at any time, they undertake their deliveries before returning the EV to the hub at the end of their working day. The vehicle is locked, parked and charged overnight and then ready to be rented the next day. The long range and battery capabilities of the EV means it can be used for an entire day of work.
     
The platform also removes all the courier companies’ electric fleet parking, charging, maintaining, financing and managing burdens. Offered to both independent couriers and delivery firms, Port’s dark hubs mean courier companies can automate currently labour-intensive fleet management tasks and unlock the full potential of EVs.
     
At a time of courier shortages, the hubs will also empower more drivers to enter the industry. Building Port’s dark hubs in city centres activates a suburban workforce that is currently untapped by the last-mile delivery industry, as suburban workers are largely unable to cover the long distance between their homes and the city centre by e-bike or moped. The dark hubs will enable them to commute into the city centre and pick up their fully charged vehicle for the day.
     
The dark hub launch follows two years of R&D by Port, who have built every aspect of the dark hub platform – including the proprietary hardware and software – from the ground up. At the heart of the system is the world’s first, patented universal docking station that can lock and charge any small electric vehicle. As a result, Port offers a wide range of EVs to best meet the needs of industry players – including deliverers of food, parcels and groceries.

Electric mobile micro-hub
Volta Trucks and Swedish electric motorcycle manufacturer Cake, have announced a collaboration aimed at decarbonising and decongesting last mile deliveries.  
    
H&M Group will lead the first trial, which is planned in Q1 2023 in Paris.
    
The Volta Zero will act as a mobile micro hub, or mini warehouse. Cake’s electric motorcycles will be loaded into the Volta Zero from the distribution centre at the start of the working day and deployed into the city centre. From there, the Cake electric motorcycles will deliver the last mile of parcels to customers in the fastest and most sustainable way, without impacting the traffic, or struggling with parking. The Volta Zero is free to redeploy to other locations throughout the day or to provide quick-replacement batteries for the Cake motorcycles if necessary, providing an efficient city-wide coverage for deliveries.
    
Stefan Ytterborn, founder and CEO of Cake, commented: “As the majority of today’s last-mile delivery chains will soon be banned in many of the world’s largest cities, world-leading e-commerce consumer brands need to engage in future-proof concepts now. Solutions need to be developed to offer lower emissions and less congestion, while benefiting from far more efficient deliveries all the way to the end customer. This innovative mobility ecosystem that the three brands are trialling is setting a clear direction for both healthier cities and business advantages.”

Multimodal last milee-mobility concept
Renault Trucks has announced the launch of a multimodal last mile e-mobility concept.
    
Called the the Renault Trucks E-Tech Master OptiModale, it combines “three types of electric transportation in one vehicle”. It’s made up of a 3.5 tonne LWB L3H1 E-Tech Master van with Low Loader Luton body by Horton Commercials; an eBullitt electric Cargo bike; and parcel-carrying drone from UVATEK.
    
Suitable for a wide range of logistics operations as well as medical applications, the E-Tech OptiModale is designed to carry and deliver parcels of various sizes. Its specially commissioned Low Loader Luton body holds the parcels and acts as the ‘Mothership’ for the eCargo bike and drone helipad system.
    
Grahame Neagus, head of LCV at Renault Trucks UK & Ireland, says: “The all-new Renault Trucks E-Tech Master OptiModale addresses the pressing need to improve air quality and pollution in our cities while improving accessibility and productivity for operators. By harnessing multiple modes of electric transport, this is an all-in-one sustainable solution that is set to transform the rapidly growing parcel market, and can be replicated anywhere in the world.
    
“The E-Tech Master OptiModale is a two-person operation, offering the flexibility of delivering larger parcels by van, whilst the second team member takes the eBullitt cargo bike for last mile deliveries where congestion is at its worst. Additionally, the drone provides rapid deployment for urgent situations, such as delivering vital drugs or supplies to challenging or inaccessible locations. Optimodale delivers an innovative “last mile” solution and is a clear illustration of the breadth and depth of our thinking, providing Renault Trucks logistics customers with a sustainable solution from 2kg all the way up to 44 tonne.”

Electric bikes for recycling collections
It’s not only delivery companies that are affected by operating in urban centres. Many other companies are embracing innovative ways to run a fleet within a city.
    
London recycling company, First Mile, for example, has invested in a fleet of four custom-built electric bikes for recycling in the capital.
    
First Mile’s custom-built bikes can each carry 250kg of recycling, while working silently across the capital with zero emissions. Each bike operates on one small battery charge, which can cover 25 miles per day – an ideal operational range for urban collections. One bike has the same operational capacity as a 3.5tonne small van-sized vehicle, while saving 20.26 kg of CO2 emissions per day in comparison. The fleet is ULEZ compliant and congestion charge exempt.
    
As suggested by its name, First Mile was established to tackle the challenges often presented by the first mile of the recycling supply chain. These challenges include the need to collect recycling from thousands of businesses, separate various recycling streams and consolidate the material for reprocessing.   
    
The new fleet of bikes were designed and built by cargo bike and pedicab rickshaw manufacturer, Maxpro, and have much lower embedded carbon in the production of the bikes and their batteries, compared to traditional vehicles.