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MU Engineering researchers help company keep on truckin’

A semi truck pulls through a gate.

Mizzou Engineering’s Sharan Srinivas and Dustin Smith solved a critical problem an anonymous company had in terms of loading and unloading trucks at its facilities. Photo by Kendall Henderson.

Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Assistant Professor Sharan Srinivas and IMSE graduate student Dustin Smith were tasked to solve a company’s logistical delivery problem. Their impressive work landed a placement in ISE Magazine, the flagship magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), industrial engineering’s largest professional organization.

Srinivas portrait

Sharan Srinivas.

The article, “Get your truckers moving,” illustrates how Srinivas and Smith came up with a model that allows the company, which requested to remain anonymous to maintain a competitive advantage, to solve a critical problem it had in terms of loading and unloading trucks at its facilities.

Because of the long queue to enter the facility, the company was incurring an overtime penalty from the trucking companies (third-party carriers). And, in one specific case, a facility was receiving pushback from its local community because the backlog of trucks waiting to check-in was blocking the main traffic artery in town. Because of that unique complication, Srinivas and Smith chose that particular location to build their model around.

“What we did was collect data, obtained from the company for the last six months or so … then we developed a computer simulation model first to represent their current operations,” Srinivas explained.

After validating the model with the company, Srinivas and Smith simulated different alternative scenarios to discover ways to best limit time spent at the facility and reduce backup at check-in.

They offered two different solutions. The first was in capacity management. Optimized for their needs, the model would tell the company whether their plan required more automation of the check-in process or more staff for a manual check-in. The second approach was queue management. This solution prioritizes trucks that need to unload fully rather than just drop off their trailer. The trucks that take longer to unload go through check in first to get them out the door more quickly and avoid penalties from the trucking companies.

“We also did a cost-benefit analysis,” Srinivas said. “Each alternative comes with a cost to the company. We put forth an argument on when to use which of these alternatives. If the companies are planning a short-term fix, we recommend a partial alternative, and if it’s long-term — scaling up to all their facilities and implementing it system-wide — they probably need to go in for automation.”

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