Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Fujitsu Siemens Steams Ahead

Fujitsu Siemens has become the first company to ship IT products from China to Germany via the Trans-Eurasian railway. Although conceived as much for the flexibility and cost reduction it offers, using the railway makes a significant contribution to the company's efforts to cut carbon emissions across the product life cycle. The train journey generates less than 5% of the CO2 emissions of air freight at a quarter of the cost and is also a third faster than transport by sea.

The route crosses six countries and seven time zones and includes two changes of train - the operation is being co-ordinated by freight company DB Schenker and the various rail operators. The first delivery of 50 containers of IT products, including monitors and systems chassis, left Xiangtang, 700km north of Hong Kong, on September 19th and is expected to take 17 days to reach Germany. The monitors go to the FSC European distribution centre in Worms and the chassis assemblies to the factory in Augsburg.

The flexibility comes from the fact that whilst air freight between China and Germany takes only 2-3 days it's very expensive. By contrast, sea transport takes 25-30 days, which is a long time when stock levels and inventory values change daily. The train offers a compromise and the company anticipates that 5-15% of shipments will be moved from plane to train.

The Green benefit comes from the fact that transport from China to Germany by air generates 4,950 Kg CO2 emissions per tonne whilst the train is just 280Kg per tonne, so the potential savings are significant.

The rail route is not without its problems, though. Changes in the gauge of the track mean the train has to be changed a couple of times, getting through customs is no mean feat and security is an on-going concern (although GPS is being used to track the freight). The biggest problem is that in the winter temperatures can drop to -60C along the route, which is too extreme for this sort of equipment, so the railway is only effectively open to Fujitsu Siemens for eight months of the year. The company is looking into using containers that can withstand the low temperatures.

I recall that in a previous blog I said that FCS was losing the PR battle against its rivals in talking about how Green their operations and products are, but they've made up a lot of ground here. There's a blog of the journey which also shows the accumulating CO2 emissions saved (compared with air freight) as the train progresses. Also some great pictures from DB AG/DB Schenker.

It's nice to see an IT company taking the initiative in this way, but others will be queuing up to use the train. It won't be long before manufacturers across Europe will be looking for similar solutions to reduce emissions, supported by more complex and diverse supply chain and logistics IT systems. Solutions will need to be dynamic as routes succumb to regional temperature variations (as this does), even more so as the impact of global warming kicks in.

© The Green IT Review

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