Data2Move Research Stories: Achieve Cost Reduction by Dynamic Demand Prediction – An Application in the Container Transport Industry

Where supply chain management and data science meet, interesting questions arise. In our Data2Move Research Stories, you will find out how students have answered these. This time we feature Rijk van der Meulen’s master thesis research at H&S Group, an international and intermodal operating Logistics Service Provider in the liquid foodstuff industry.  

Where it started – challenges 
H&S Group asked Van der Meulen to focus on two operational challenges faced by many intermodal operating Logistics Service Providers:

– The efficient repositioning of empty tank containers

– Proactive planning of their drayage operations

Van der Meulen addressed these challenges in his thesis ‘Forecasting the required tank container and trucking capacity for an intermodal Logistics Service’. His research explores how you can predict demand more accurately and how these demand predictions facilitate better operational planning.

Insight into tank containers and trucking units per location and time
To tackle these challenges, it was important to extract valuable information from data. Van der Meulen needed insight into the expected number of loadings and deliveries. Also, he needed the corresponding requirements of trucking and tank container capacity. By combining these key aspects, he defined how many tank containers and trucking units are needed in a certain planning region at a given time.

Dynamic demand prediction
The true innovative character of van der Meulen’s prediction methodology lies in the dynamic update of the predictions of loadings and deliveries. He used a mathematical technique (Bayesian) to dynamically adjust the initial prediction based on new orders as they enter into the system. This ‘advance demand information’ represents the demand for the future, which is already known in the present. It ensures that planners have access to the most up-to-date and accurate loading and delivery predictions at any time.

In his next step, Van der Meulen used the adjusted forecast to predict the required tank container and trucking capacity. He relied on multiple additional models based on the hierarchical top-down forecast approach and multiple linear regression to assess the effectiveness of the complete forecasting methodology. Its accuracy was put to the test during a one-month test case for two planning regions.

Findings
The one-month test case showed that the dynamic prediction method increased the accuracy of the initial forecast by 65 percent. Using cost simulations, Van der Meulen estimates that this improved prediction accuracy can lead to a 5.2 percent reduction of the total costs associated with trucking operations. That’s a big step towards achieving the operational excellence necessary to survive in the low-margin industry of intermodal logistic service providers. Van der Meulen’s research strengthened H&S in their conviction that forecasting plays a vital role in addressing the challenges of empty tank container repositioning and drayage operations planning.

Spin-off project – implementation
As a result of these findings, H&S started a joint forecasting implementation project with Logistics Service Provider Den Hartogh and data science consultancy firm CQM. The goal of this collaboration is to implement the dynamic prediction methodology of van der Meulen’s research and integrate the implementation with the planning software at H&S and Den Hartogh. This allows both companies to plan their trucking and container operations better and achieve significant cost reductions while maintaining the same service to their customers.

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