“I want to bring innovations to Zeeland to renew and improve logistics”

Interview with lector Thierry Verduijn

Paul Vader, editor HZ Discovery

Two years after its inception, the new research group Supply Chain Innovation is making good headway. Lector Thierry Verduijn has brought together an enthusiastic group of lecturer-researcher and established contact with a large number of HZ courses, research groups, and of course partners in the logistics industry. Initially, this interview was supposed to take place after his inauguration speech but, as with so many things throughout the bizarre year that was 2020, it had to be cancelled at the time. He himself feels that we should just forget about the “little lector chat”: “I’ll provide an update if and when the lectorate is renewed at some point in the next two years.” However, he will take this interview as an opportunity to share his research plans with the world.

What would the core message of your lectorate speech have been? “There are many important innovations taking place in logistics, but mostly not in Zeeland. Very few logistics companies from Zeeland are affiliated with such innovations out of their own initiative. I view my lectorate as a means of bring those innovations to Zeeland, to innovate and improve the sector.”

Thierry Verduijn lives in The Hague and splits his time between the HZ and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, where he is the Senior Lecturer in Logistics. Upon being asked what his connection to Zeeland is, we experience a rare moment of silence from him: “Apart from having had a girlfriend from Tholen once upon a time, I didn’t really have a connection with Zeeland. But now that I have been appointed to my position here, Zeeland is constantly at the forefront of my mind. I don’t travel down here from The Hague twice a week just to put in my hours. I am now fully focused on the agenda.” That agenda is quite ambitious and is set in part based on the Zeeland Connect collaboration , the innovation network between government, knowledge institutes, and private parties in logistics.

Four research themes Four so-called innovation lines have been defined within Zeeland Connect, which in turn also determine the research themes of the lectorate. The first theme concerns the bundling of logistical flows and collaboration between companies to make transport into the back country more efficient. “Companies do know that they can set better timetables if they work together with their competitors, but it is often very difficult to implement. To this end, we primarily have students perform analyses, allowing the collaboration to emerge gradually.” The second research line looks at zero-emission logistics. “We’re developing a calculation model that helps transporters with the decision to switch to electric vehicles. We’re also looking at the charging requirements of the logistics sector and the required charging infrastructure, in collaboration with Provincie Zeeland.” The third innovation is that of digitisation and robotisation. “The automating of logistical processes is a trend that can be seen all over the world. For Zeeland it really is necessary, because companies expect not to see growth due to a lack of logistics personnel.”

Autonomous transport as a centrepiece “The first three themes are unavoidable if you want to stay relevant in the logistics game. You just can’t escape these. But as a research group, we also need to have a topic we can stay ahead of the curve in. That is going to be autonomous transport. Together with the two truck manufacturers, we’ve set up a living lab at Kloosterboer, where autonomous vehicles will participate in user-operated traffic. That is substantively different from what is being done at Rotterdam harbour currently. There, they are using centrally operated trucks on enclosed sites. We are now also participating in a European project for tele-operated driving, driving using a remote operator.”

Achieved a lot Thierry Verduijn is proud of his team of young junior lecturer-researchers. “In just two years, we’ve already achieved a lot. The projects we’ve defined in Zeeland Connect are more intertwined and more innovative than when I started here. It really is very enjoyable. The team just so much energy.” He also sees potential for more collaboration with different courses and research groups. “In particular around the theme of autonomous transport, I see a lot of potential and opportunities for collaboration with ICT, Engineering Management, ‘regular’ Business Management, and of course Logistics courses.”

Tell me more about the Supply Chain Innovation research group.

Thierry Verduijn