CemWeek Magazine: From race track to road

Press Review

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Modern F1 cars are a world away from our everyday roadtrucks. But in the daily race for competitiveness, cement producers can learn a lot from the data driven decision making in today's motorsport. The right planning strategy and realtime data insights can help you to cross the finish line first.

Planning the supply of cement from plants to storage depots and customer sites can be quite challenging. Planners and Dispatchers face a high variability of demand, heavy onsite traffic during peak hours, limited availability of trucks, driving time regulation limits and many other restrictions. At the same time, they must try to find the best balance between customer satisfaction and transport costs. If just one item in the mix fails, the entire plan may collapse like a house of cards – with shipments running late and costs way out of line. And to make things worse, deliveries from plants are often scheduled independently on a plant by plant basis to serve the demand within a plant’s region only.

Glory Days

Gone are the days of pen and paper, marker boards and magnets. Even spreadsheets have been replaced by conventional scheduling software packages, which are a practical tool for the daily routine. They automatically copy order data from the ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning), provide user-friendly graphical interfaces to help assign trucks to loading points, calculate schedules and turnaround times, or may even visualize routes on maps. But with a larger truck fleet on the road, numerous plants & depots and delivery sites spread across a wider region, huge data volumes have to be handled in order to find a set of good schedules. Business rules e.g. preferred service) and site constraints like product availability at a specific loading point add even more variables to the calculation. The human brain is not up to this sort of challenge. Even experienced schedulers and dispatchers are stretched to their limits if they only work with software that does not have its own intelligence.

Powered by Algorithms

A giant leap forward in planning technology is the use of intelligent optimization software packages. They are equipped with algorithms that analyze a virtually endless number of scheduling decisions in real time and identify those that are ideal for minimizing costs and maximizing service quality – based on the business criteria defined. Optimization benefits from the enormous advances in computer hardware over the past decades, but much more from even greater advances that have been made in algorithms and software over the same time: Hardware power has increased by the factor 1,200, while algorithms have improved by a factor of 55,000 over a period of 20 years. The joint forces result into a staggering factor of 66 million, or in other words: a planning model using linear programming that would have taken two years to solve in the 1990s, could be solved in just one second today. The basic steps for a comprehensive optimization approach are shown in figure 1.

Fig 1: Intelligent Transport Planning with Real-time Optimization

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