Intelligent logistics

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This article was published in the November issue of International Cement Review in 2014.

Ein fairer Preis und guter Service sind die Schlüsselkompetenzen, um einen Wettbewerbsvorteil auf dem Zementmarkt zu erreichen. Eine effiziente Logistikkette sorgt für die schnelle und zeitnahe Lieferung der Produkte an den Kunden und muss gleichzeitig der Anforderung standhalten, kostengünstig und präzise zu sein.

Dies kann durch den Einsatz von intelligenter Planungssoftware gewährleistet werden. Mit ihrer Hilfe kann die Servicequalität optimiert und die Kundenzufriedenheit sichergestellt werden.

by Thomas Bergmans, INFORM GmbH, Germany


The distribution of cement is one of the most complex logistics management tasks. Small and large order quantities must be delivered quickly, accurately and as cost-effectively as possible to geographically widelydistributed and frequently-changing unloading points. The objectives are therefore conflicting. ‘Cost-effective’ means minimising transport cost and driving distances and maximising truck utilisation. ‘Fast and accurate’ means creating robust and reliable plans, taking unforeseen eventualities into account, as well as exclusive delivery.

If all the constraints that need to be considered when balancing these objectives are added together, one of the most interesting issues of operations research emerges: the vehicle routing problem(VRP). The task is to design the optimal set of routes for a fleet of vehicles to serve a given set of customers. In this case VRP is even extended to the vehicle routing problem with time windows (VRPTW), meaning that the delivery locations have time windows within which the deliveries must be made. Furthermore, the vehicle fleets are heterogeneous and there are many more complex factors to be considered, such as splitting bulk orders into deliveries. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine the data volumes that cement suppliers with a large number of locations and hundreds of trucks have to compute to ‘only’ find a set of optimised routes. The human brain is not up to this sort of challenge. This is why even experienced schedulers or dispatchers are stretched to their limits with this task if they only work with an Excel spreadsheet or software that does not have its own intelligence.

Conventional transport solutions

Conventional solutions for building materials logistics offer support to logistics coordinators in arranging loads and truck schedules by providing a wide range of functions. They copy order-relevant data from the ERP systems automatically, provide user-friendly graphical interfaces on which loads can be assigned to trucks, calculate schedules including the journey times and visualise them on maps. If they have a GPS telematics component, they can also track the position of the truck and the delivery status in real time. Compared to planning using a scheduling plan on paper or spreadsheet, this is already a giant leap forwards in planning technology. Even with all the support provided, thanks to the digitalisation of the scheduling process, the decision as to which (special) truck to use for a delivery to a specific customer is still made based on incomplete knowledge by a human. Consequently, it can neither be the best decision in terms of cost nor with regard to service quality.

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