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BISCI helps Limburg remain a leader in logistics

Sustainability, food safety and data science. These all come together at BISCI, the Brightlands Institute for Supply Chain Innovation. Barely a year and a half after its launch, the Venlo Institute was awarded a Knowledge Axis grant of 1.5 million Euros by the Province of Limburg.

The grant is excellent recognition of the work the institute does, according to scientific director, Prof. Dr. Bart Vos. Thanks to the grant and the commitment of the institute’s founding fathers TNO, Fontys and Maastricht University, BISCI will be able to continue to uphold and strengthen Limburg’s leading role in logistics for the next four years.

“BISCI is a knowledge center focused on supply chain innovations. We study how we can use smart technology to make logistic chains faster, safer and more sustainable,” Bart says. “The Venlo region plays a leading role in logistics in Northwest Europe. By connecting practical knowledge on the logistics sector and BISCI’s scientific knowledge, we can ensure that Limburg remains a logistics hotspot. The Knowledge Axis grant along with the two million Euros that UM, Fontys and TNO will be collectively investing in BISCI over the next four years will help build a solid foundation for further growth. People will also be ‘freed up’ to work with BISCI. Business Director Ton Geurts is now my co-director, which is very important for BISCI; Ton can contribute a huge network and a lot of knowledge and experience.”

Change is the only constant

BISCI is based at Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo in one of the Box-in-Box offices. Bart: “Our lab is reality, the companies based here. BISCI is the driving force behind Supply Chain Valley, a group of companies that have joined forces and are active primarily in Northern Limburg such as Seacon, Arvato, Vida XL, KLG Europe, Insign.it, Michael Kors and Moonen Packaging. We connect parties so that they can strengthen one another, and we link research to their problems or challenges. This research is currently being conducted by UM students in the Global Supply Chain Management and Change master’s program, and Fontys students will soon be joining them. This collaboration with students is a great advantage for the companies; it puts them in contact with available talent faster, and they gain students’ loyalty. The students also make it easier for them to stay up-to-date on the latest innovations. There’s a good reason the word ‘change’ is part of the master program’s name; change is also the only constant in the logistics sector.”

Preventing waste

Sustainability and food safety are two important themes at BISCI. “Food waste, for example, is a problem that is starting to attract a lot more attention,” Bart says. “Our Smart Packaging project involves the development of packaging equipped with a sensor that monitors a product’s shelf life and combines this with current stock levels. Although this is not new technology, we are looking at how to scale it up to make the application economically feasible. The great thing about the Brightlands campus is that it also helps you meet people outside of your immediate field of expertise. Alie de Boer of the Food Claims Center focuses on food and health claims as well as food safety. I’m currently talking to her about joint research on food waste. She looks at it from a different angle which makes it interesting.”

Eating healthier and shortening the chain

“Sustainability also involves social and health aspects. Holland Robotics is a BISCI project that aims to improve how warehouses work, and centers around the question of how to deal with the human factor. BISCI is also involved in the Healthy Primary School of the Future project in which local growers provide schools with healthy products. The pilot carried out in Parkstad showed that high logistics costs can pose a threat to the success of the project. In co-creation with the growers and the schools, BISCI is now looking at how to make this better and more affordable. This presents challenges; seasonal products and their growers change throughout the year, so this needs to be taken into account. I really like the social impact a project like this has. It contributes to a healthy lifestyle for young people and is an opportunity for growers to shorten their supply chain.”

Interesting links between the campuses

Even though BISCI is affiliated with Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo, Bart sees so many opportunities to work closely with the other Brightlands campuses. “Blockchain and the use of data are tools that can make the chain smarter. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of the knowledge and expertise the Smart Services Campus in Heerlen has in this area? Consider the ambitions of Chemelot Circular Hub, where logistics plays a crucial role. BISCI can offer great value in this respect. I see so many opportunities for interesting links.”

Solid link between education and practice

A lot has happened in the year and a half since BISCI began, and the knowledge center is undergoing dynamic development. Bart: “UM, Fontys and TNO have turned out to be natural partners in supply chain innovation. BISCI is actively involved in a growing number of great projects. A personal source of pride for me is that the link between education, research and practice is becoming even more solid. We put students to work helping companies and companies provide guest speakers and information on fascinating cases. After all, it’s all happening in the world around us. A ship stuck in the Suez Canal shows just how vulnerable the chain is. The consequences of that delay have been enormous. And as unpleasant it is for those involved, for us, it’s the perfect material for studying relevant issues in our sector.”

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