Using Optimization to Achieve a Green Supply Chain

August 9th, 2010 2:31 pm Category: Green Network, Green Optimization, Supply Chain Improvement, Sustainability, Transportation, by: Gene Ramsay

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“Going Green” is becoming a higher priority for companies large and small, as regulatory bodies and consumers around the world push for more readily-available information on corporate carbon footprints and companies’ plans to control / reduce their carbon emissions.  But how do you do this most cost-effectively?  Optimization is a tool that can lead to better “green” decision-making.

First, let’s review of the types of decisions that companies are making today.  Here are some real world examples from recent press reports…

Dole Food Company,  the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, has committed to make its banana and pineapple business in Costa Rica carbon neutral over the next decade.  Dole social responsibility officials Sylvain Cuperlier and Rudy Amador recently highlighted their priorities in achieving this in an interview :

  • measurement of current carbon footprint and activities, such as the use of fertilizers,
  • research into and collaboration on mitigation and sequestration projects, and
  • improved  operations, including increased use of rail transportation on land and more energy-efficient refrigerated containers for maritime shipments.

Tyco Waterworks, a worldwide supplier of water system equipment based in the UK, has documented its consolidation of multiple manufacturing plants into a single Manufacturing Centre of Excellence for meter boxes, plastic injection molding and gunmetal products in Bridgend, South Wales.  Having all its manufacturing under one roof results in a reduction in the company’s overall energy consumption and transport, with a resulting positive impact on its carbon footprint (as well as giving operational efficiency benefits.)

Xerox Corporation, which provides document services and equipment around the world, maintains a fleet of 5,000 vehicles used by its technicians in the United States as they respond to customer requests for service.   Tony Rossi, Xerox’s manager of programs and operational support, said in an interview that his programs, which have reduced fuel consumption over the last several years by 10%, and have a goal of a 25% reduction, can be grouped into four categories:

  • pairing each driver with the best-sized vehicle for his / her needs,
  • improving the fleet’s fuel efficiency as vehicles are replaced,
  • tracking driver routes and distances traveled on a daily basis, and
  • using GPS systems to match available technicians against pending requests as they are dispatched during the day.

The common thread?  These companies have made progress towards their cost and carbon goals by

  • understanding their current situation, and what their options include,
  • implementing more efficient operations over their existing supply chain (thus generally using less energy and lowering their footprint), and
  • making the most effective capital additions to their supply chain systems when justified.

Optimization techniques can allow you to identify the best solutions that are possible in improving efficiency and implementing capital projects.  Thus you can make the best choices for meeting your goals from the options that you have at hand.

In making decisions for a manufacturing-oriented supply chain like the one described for Tyco Waterworks above, a network design tool like Profit Network can help you evaluate the benefits of:

  • keeping or consolidating existing facilities, as well as,
  • opening potential manufacturing sites, taking into account
  • capital costs,
  • shutdown charges,
  • manufacturing rates and costs,
  • freight costs, and
  • and a host of other costs and constraints on operations.

Profit Network uses a combination of linear and mixed integer programming and related optimization techniques to guarantee that you evaluate a range of solutions and identify those that are best for your particular needs.  Potential decisions that can be evaluated include both operational changes and choices among proposed capital projects that will lead to greater efficiency.

Xerox and Dole have scheduling problems that can be solved by both optimization and heuristic means.  The Xerox technician dispatching problem is a variation on the mathematically well-studied Assignment Problem, which can be solved using “greedy” algorithms (which pick off the “low hanging fruit” but are not guaranteed to give the absolute best solution) or more comprehensive methods that can give the best solution, at perhaps a longer solve time.  Transportation scheduling problems again can be solved through these methods. Using the technology of the 21st century will be critical for businesses to meet their “green” objectives.  Optimization technology is one of these new technologies that will help you reach these goals.

This article was written by Dr. Gene Ramsay, Profit Point’s Infrastructure Planning Practice Leader. To learn more about Profit Point’s Supply Chain Sustainability services, please call (866) 347-1130 or contact us here.

Image courtesy of Gavin Schaefer.

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