Why an optimization tool is a planner's best bud!

Posted by Louis D'hondt on 08/08/2017

 

teaming up

Nowadays, the fear of job-loss through technological evolution is a common feeling. As transport planning tools are on the increase, planners might fear alike.

However, for various causes, optimization software should be considered a support for a planner's work rather than a replacement of his work.

It's an opportunity and not a threat...

1. Rising complexity

The complexity of plannings has been soaring to the point where candidates who are willing to take up the challenge have become scarce.
The number of vehicles available, the ever rising customer requirements and the growing number of restrictions to take into account are contributing to that complexity. F. e.:

  • 1000 vehicles at disposal
  • drivers should be at a location between 7 and 7.15, 7.20 is too late
  • blocked roads
  • traffic jams
  • no-go zones for certain vehicles
  • ...

All these factors combined with today's economic requirements make it practically impossible to plan without fitting software.

Nevertheless, the possibility of constraints not known to the program is always present. Social demands and insights based on experience are hard to interpret for a computer.
The planner's knowledge and expertise should never be underestimated, neither will the importance of his input to put theory to practice.
This results in a highly complementary cooperation: the optimization tool uses it's powerful engine to come up with an optimized planning, the planner validates and fine-tunes in order to make it align with the business.

2. Data validation

Dirty data is the enemy of every planner. Cleaning data can be very time-consuming and sometimes frustrating.
When a well-developed optimization tool is used for the first time, many of the errors will be alerted or exploited (and resulting in outliers). After a couple of iterations, data gets cleaner and valuable insights are generated.

3. Time to focus on insights and bottlenecks

focus.jpg

In planning manually, roughly 70% of the time is spent on solving the planning-puzzle itself. 

The engine can solve the biggest chunk of the problem. Hence the planner gets extra time to focus on bottlenecks to optimize the entire process.

4. Measuring the impact of change

Bottlenecks usually lead to one of two possible options

  1. Take action
  2. Further analysis

Should further analysis be necessary, this can easily be achieved by modifying input data and measuring the impact of this change.
Modifications can be small (f.e. moving the earliest start time of a driver), moderate (introducing new vehicle) or big (relocating a DC).
Besides operational modifications, planners dispose of the necessary means to analyse tactic and strategic optimizations.
What-if questions can be answered with answers based on KPI's like €/km, €/route, €/kg, €/stop, kg/route etc.

5. Firefighting - real time adaptations

The enhancements mentioned above all allow some time to investigate but there are frequent real time issues that demand immediate action. Issues such as engine trouble, unforeseen traffic jam, underestimated volumes, ...
In these situations, planning tools recalculate costs after manual adjustments to an existing planning.
Unlike manual "quick" solutions to problems with real-time plannings, which generally require 7-like phone calls, in practically no time a new optimized result is available.

6. Responsibility

In today's competitive environment - and the transport sector is especially known for it's competitiveness - every company must be ahead of it's competitors. The importance of the one one being closest to the 'technological step forward' is not to be underestimated, neither is his responsibility.

To conclude

A transport optimization tool takes some of the repetitive burden of one's shoulders, creating more time to focus on bottlenecks and optimizing the system as a whole. A situation arises where mastering the tool can be a stepping stone for planners as it frees time to manage the planning process, discover valuable insights, eliminate bottlenecks and be the central communicator between high level management, planning, operations and transporters.

Topics: Route optimization, Transport

Louis D'hondt

Written by Louis D'hondt