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Transportation optimization, a challenge at the heart of our societies

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By Fabien Lehuédé, assistant lecturer in the Automatic Control and Production Systems and IT department at Mines Nantes (Logistic systems and Production team, joint research unit IRCCyN, UMR CNRS 6597)

Transport, omnipresent in today's societies is at the heart of challenges for tomorrow, both for individuals and companies. There are major economic and environmental issues, in a context of growing competition in delivery times, and increasing distances between people and their workplace. How can we maintain or adapt our way of life in a sustainable way, while at the same time reducing inequalities ? How can industrial companies keep up with the growing demand for high performance personalized solutions, doing so without increasing pollution and maintaining an economic balance ? For passenger transport, how do you provide a solution which is economically sound, sustainable, and fair, for the mobility of a scattered population ?

These challenges raise a number of questions, and technical solutions have been put forward (electric vehicules, drones, autonomous vehicules). There remain a number of obstacles however, concerning their integration into existing transport systems. The economic and environmental efficiency of transport depends on the intelligent planning of the whole network or supply chain, within which capacity sharing solutions have to be organized. These issues are at the heart of our work on transport and logistics within the Logistic systems and Production team. Our research focuses on sustainable supply chain design, mutualisation of the procurement planning for large distribution platforms, as well as the intermodality and synchronisation of traditional means of transport with vehicules designed for city deliveries. The optimisation algorithms that have been developed come within the scope of operational research. They are useful on many levels to help in decision-making in complex combinational problems. At the strategic level, this includes careful identification of logistic platforms, and the simulation of innovative systems (supplying electric vehicles in city centres using buses for example). At operational level, our optimization engines are integrated into company information systems for everyday optimization of delivery rounds and load plans for the trucks.

From June 6th to 9th 2016, more than 200 researchers from 20 different countries came together at Mines Nantes to work on the theme of transportation and logistics optimization. The annual conference of the VeRoLog working group (annual workshop of the EURO working group on Vehicle Routing and Logistics optimization), was first held in Bologne in 2012. It subsequently took place in Nottingham, Oslo and Vienna. This latest edition in Nantes was marked by two top quality plenary sessions. Stefan Ropke (Technical University of Denmark) began with an overview of his large neighborhood search method, first published ten years ago, and which has since become  indispensible. Mike Hewitt (Loyola University Chicago) presented a new method of load plan optimization for transport networks with cross-docking, which will certainly have an impact in this field. More than 140 researchers also presented their work, showing new approaches and new challenges, such as plans for using drones for deliveries. A significant development for the scientific community : four industrial companies, publishers of optimization solutions, took part in the tutorials about their tools (PTV Group et Local Solver) or in brainstorming sessions (ORTEC et GTS systems & consulting). These discussions drew researchers' attention to what companies now need. Of the five editions of VeRoLog, the number of European and international researchers taking part was greatest in Nantes.

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