Adoption of the standard container revolutionized global cargo shipping, bringing vast improvements in efficiency and ease of trade. However, growing need for volume flexibility, increasing time and cost pressures will necessitate new container formats and processes, especially in the context of shared logistics networks and urban delivery. Innovative packaging formats are also essential to cope with the speed, scale and complexity of modern logistics processes and to handle the rise in single shipment volumes from ecommerce.

Key Developments & Implications

With increasing global trade and complexities in supply chains, new smart container formats (modular, flexible, connected) will help improve process efficiency and enable shipment monitoring and visibility. As city delivery volumes grow, smaller container formats and even new packaging can help standardize urban logistics across a multitude of networks. Such new forms will require significant adoption to enable standardization and maximize benefits in the logistics industry. 

Improved materials, advances in automation and optimization technologies, and new returnable and reusable packaging solutions will aid the development of more efficient and sustainable supply chains. The application of next-generation IoT solutions in packaging will transform visibility, traceability and security. 

  • Connected containers equipped with sensors will enable real-time visibility and monitoring of goods, especially for those requiring special conditions (e.g., temperature control, high security). Concepts such as the Physical Internet (PI) are encouraging companies to test IoT-enabled standardized modular containers with real-time tracking capabilities. This envisions a model of smart containers moving across shared networks of lanes and distribution centers, ensuring product quality, reducing losses, and achieving more agile and transparent logistics networks.

  • New modular container formats can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of urban logistics, enabling the use of multiple networks (e.g., utilizing city infrastructure and networks to transport and store goods). The benefits include direct goods loading, bundling to reduce transportation runs, and increased flexibility. For example, a truck loaded with several containers can transport goods to the outer rim of a city, with final-mile containers being dispersed via more city-friendly modes (e.g., DHL Cubicycle). In the future, containers could be autonomously loaded onto autonomous bots or self-driving vehicles.


    Packaging is fundamental to the logistics industry. It makes products safer and easier to handle and protects them during storage, transport and delivery to their final destination. Yet there is growing evidence that today’s approaches to packaging are struggling to meet the changing needs of companies, consumers and the wider environment. The speed, scale and complexity of modern logistics processes – especially those driven by the growth of e-commerce and omni-channel retail – is driving packaging costs up and efficiency down. Brands want their packaging to present them in a positive light, but consumers are frustrated by packaging that is hard to use and difficult to recycle. Packaging waste presents a significant environmental challenge. In the near future, packaging innovations inside and outside the box will lead to better performance, improved capacity utilization, greater visibility and reduced waste. Unlocking the potential of these innovations will require close collaboration and knowledge sharing between multiple stakeholders, including materials companies, packaging manufacturers, supply chain experts and end-customers. 


Rethinking Packaging

Download the full trend report to learn more about the trends accelerating the need to rethink packaging today, and the new materials, new technologies and new business models that will help companies to address their current and future packaging challenges.

Questions answered in this report

  • What trends are driving changes in packaging?
  • How are industries and their packaging needs evolving?
  • How will packaging innovations shape the future of the logistics industry?

Talk to an Expert

Michel Heck

Innovation Manager, Trend Research
DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation

Michel is a passionate Innovation Manager and creative problem solver. In his role, Michel is shaping the overall innovation agenda at DHL through developing industry trend reports and identifying, piloting and commercializing state-of-the art technology solutions for the logistics industry and its customers. Within the Trend Research team, Michel’s work focuses on future application areas of drone technologies within logistics operations and the introduction of upcoming packaging innovations to the business.

Michel joined Deutsche Post DHL Group in 2017 and worked for the global innovation team at the Innovation Centers in Germany and Singapore. Michel studied in France and Germany and holds a Masters degree with a focus on Technology & Innovation Management.

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