Transportation Optimizer: (Not Quite) Space-Age Solution to the Problem of Empty Miles

Orbital Science’s robotic Cygnus spacecraft delivered 3700 pounds of freight to the international space station several days ago. After unloading the shipment, astronauts aboard the ISS sent the Cygnus craft on a return trajectory toward Earth where it promptly burned up in the atmosphere. A pretty simple solution for reverse logistics that neatly dispenses with concerns over empty miles. But terrestrial logistics planners don’t have the option to burn trailers or containers immediately upon unloading the freight. Planners working for forward-looking organizations do have the option of leveraging a truly cutting edge algorithmic technology to minimize empty miles – a Transportation Optimizer!

Since we cannot simply torch trailers after deliveries have been unloaded, we’re stuck with the challenge of minimizing empty miles. This means spending time searching for

cygnus burns
Cygnus spacecraft burning up on re-entry.

backhaul loads which is an inefficient solution at best. Instead, it’s better if transportation managers work on attaining the holy grail of “continuous moves”. In actuality, the powerful optimization algorithms available today are capable of producing continuous moves on a more regular basis. Used together with the data collected in a TMS, a good optimizer can help ensure empty miles are minimized across the supply chain.

For those who may be considering an optimizer tool and want to know how the tool helps plan continuous moves, here’s a breakdown of the functionality an optimizer provides.

Comparison Capabilities:
A best in class optimizer provides a sandbox modeler where planners can look at actual routes side-by-side against plans they may have for improved routing. Optimizers also help compare such things as costs per order, costs per shipment, average pallets, weights, miles and even stops per shipment/load. This level of visibility is key to gauging equipment utilization, finding gaps and filling them in.

Consolidation Capabilities:
Condensing sales orders into fewer multi-stop shipments, LTL consolidation, parcel consolidation and other opportunities to move more freight with less equipment is a specialty of a good optimizer tool. Using the modeling environment mentioned earlier, planners can ensure they’re achieving this efficiency goal, consolidating sales orders on outbound shipments and purchase orders inbound.

Leveraging Constraints:
Using an optimizer tool, shippers can set LTL breakpoints, cap maximum stops and even manage constraints for their private or dedicated fleet resources. Optimization algorithms can be turned loose to perform rating and consolidation based on such identifiers as SKUs, packaging types, customer receiving availabilities and others. Fleet managers can set constraints for equipment type and availability.

Add to these capabilities the detailed reporting suite that should be part of a world-class optimizer and a transportation department dedicated to process improvement and it becomes very possible to achieve continuous moves with maximum cube. In so doing, users can overcome the perennial challenge of empty mileage.

 

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