In Australia, logistics accounts for 10% of the selling price of goods, and represents 9% of economic activity. It is an area of research with potential for high impact.
In the logistics and supply chain area, companies often have individual business rules or work practices. In one company, the same driver must serve the same customers each day; in another company customers may get a different driver, but must be served at the same time each day. The techniques developed by Data61 make use of Constraint Programming, a flexible modelling system that allows these different constraints to be specified. We are able to produce solutions quickly that save costs while still observing all the relevant constraints.
It is often the case that the solution that saves the most money is also the most “brittle”: any small change (bad traffic, several customers who have large orders on the same day, …) and the problems start to mount. ORG is conducting research into ways the solution produced can be robust to “bad day” scenarios without sacrificing cost effectiveness. For instance, by ensuring important customers are visited at the start of their allowable time window, we can make sure that bad traffic will not stop us from getting there on time.
Finding efficient delivery routes in a suburb will save a company money. If we are able to handle an entire city at once, identifying synergies between customers, we can save even more. If we can look at an entire state as a single problem, there are significant benefits: both in potential savings and in ease of use. The ORG is looking at solution techniques that scale as problems get larger. We aim to develop methods that are able to handle extremely large problems without compromising on timeliness or solution quality.
Increasing availability of ICT infrastructure means companies have the opportunity to monitor processes and react to the changing environment. This offers challenges to optimisation methods, requiring real-time solution methods, and the ability to continuously update solutions. The ORG is pursuing research to deliver solutions to large-scale, dynamic supply chain problems.
Finding routes for a fleet of vehicles to deliver goods or provide a service is a key, basic problem in logistics. In the Intelligent Fleet Logistics project, the ORG has developed flexible tools that allow this problem to be solved. A particular emphasis of the work is that we do not focus just on reducing costs, but also on improving profitability. This means identifying the right vehicle to use, the right delivery frequency and right delivery quantities. Or it may mean identifying an appropriate, defensible, individual delivery charge.
The ORG is working with the RAAF to improve the effectiveness of the huge logistics task faced each day. With thousands of individual requests to be serviced across many countries, sometimes in a rapidly changing environment, the RAAF faces a problem where scalability, robustness and flexibility are all challenged.
Providing public transport in Australia’s low-density urban and rural centres is a difficult task. While week-day services are often well-supported, providing a good off-peak service can be challenging. Data61 has re-imagined public transport, and designed a hub-and-shuttle service where full-sized buses only run between “hub” locations, and then taxis act as shuttles from hubs to local stops. Despite costing no more than current services, simulations have shown the system is capable of substantially improving the convenience of off-peak services.