De-stressing the supply chain with SYNCHRO-NET

MJC², London Economics, and Politecnico di Torino, in a collaboration with another 20 European organisations, have developed an innovative approach for "de-stressing" the supply chain and reducing GHG emissions in global logistics operations. The project, known as SYNCHRO-NET, is coordinated by DHL and also involves major logistics companies COSCO Shipping Lines and Kuehne+Nagel.

Reducing emissions and increasing sustainability in the supply chain has been on the agenda for many years, and is of ever-increasing importance. However, SYNCHRO-NET adopts a new approach: instead of simply beating the drum about emissions reductions, SYNCHRO-NET provides an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven optimisation engine that guides the shipper or transport operator towards greener options.

In many cases the result is a win-win: the SYNCHRO-NET algorithms find solutions that are in fact lower cost AND greener. This is because the AI optimisation process can consider and combine millions of possible multimodal routes for the freight, finding good options that would be missed unless the user spent literally hours searching.

The optimisation approach also has an extra layer of sophistication, tailoring solutions to users based on their priorities. The system learns the user's preferences and intelligently suggests solutions that offer the right balance between cost, emissions and service level.

How does it work?

The optimisation is achieved via interaction between three main cloud-based components:

  • The Dynamic Stakeholder Assessment Module, designed by London Economics and using an innovative, user-friendly technique to learn users' preferences over route attributes: both ranking attributes in order of importance and weighting attributes. For example, whether users prioritise cost reliability or emissions reduction and the relative importance of cost, speed, and risk.
  • The SYNCHRO-NET Simulator and Supply Chain De-stresser, developed by Politecnico di Torino, uses the results of the London Economics module to find the multimodal routes that most closely match the shipper's preferences. For example, for a movement from Shanghai to Vienna it will find many (potentially millions) of possible routes and choose the best combination of ship, rail, barge, and truck to achieve the shipper's objectives.
  • The Real-time Synchro-modal Logistics Scheduler, built by MJC², manages the execution of the movement, checking its progress, and automatically re-routing it in response to disruptions or unplanned events in the supply chain. For example, if the ship is delayed by bad weather, the optimiser simply switches the onward leg from e.g. feeder vessel to train, making up lost time and ensuring the customer still gets their goods on time.

Does it actually work?

SYNCHRO-NET's de-stressing optimisation has been trialled in several operations, including three major demonstration environments, in Spain, Greece, and Ireland and by considering both import/export shipment from/to Far East as well as intra-European corridors. Results have been very impressive: 5-10% reduction in costs, 10-12% reduction in GHG emissions, as well as reduced congestion in ports and increased reliability.

From a technical perspective, the software has been shown to be able to cope with large operations, moving 1000s of shipments in the global supply chain. Although highly innovative and well beyond current state-of-the-art tools, the SYNCHRO-NET environment contains the real-world rules and constraints needed to ensure that it generates practicable solutions. For example, compatibility rules, time constraints such as drivers' regulation, detailed cost models, port/terminal operations, and equipment planning are all contemplated.

What's next?

SYNCHRO-NET was showcased in Valencia in September 2018 and market response has been very positive. Many of the optimisation modules are already commercially available, and others will become available in the coming months. It is expected that SYNCHRO-NET will enable shippers, forwarders and logistics providers to achieve synchro-modal optimisation in their supply chain, delivering increased reliability and sustainability while reducing costs and environmental impact.

More Information

MJC² is a software house specialising in real-time supply chain optimisation systems, covering logistics, manufacturing and network optimisation. MJC²'s software addresses many sectors, including multimodal freight, bulk logistics, parcel and postal operations, construction, retail and manufacturing. Please see www.mjc2.com for more information.

London Economics is one of Europe's leading specialist economics and policy consultancies. We use cutting-edge economic and analytical tools to advise an international client base throughout Europe and beyond on economic and financial analysis, litigation support, policy development and evaluation, business strategy, and regulatory and competition policy. For more information, please visit www.londoneconomics.co.uk.

The Department of Control and Computer Engineering of Politecnico di Torino promotes, coordinates and manages fundamental and applied research, training activities, technology transfer and territorial services in the Control Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Operations Research fields. The Operations Research and Optimization (ORO) group, led by Professor Tadei, has coordinated the technical development during the SYNCHRO-NET project. For more information please see www.orgroup.polito.it.

SYNCHRO-NET is a collaborative project, funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme. For more information please see www.synchronet.eu.

Keywords: synchro-modal logistics – sustainable supply chain optimization

 

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