For the layperson, transportation is a deceptively simple process as trucks, planes, ships and trains take freight where it needs to go with relative ease. To the logistics professional, however, developing the optimal transportation plan is a highly complex process. First, there are many variables that need to be considered for any shipment of goods:
Packaging: How should the goods be packaged for transportation? For example, should the goods te packaged into individual cartons or palletized or can multiple shipments be combined into a single pallet?
Consolidation: Can multiple shipments of goods be consolidated for all or part of their journey?
For example, can multiple supplier shipments be placed in the same ocean container while traveling from Shanghai to Long Beach?
Load Configuration: What is the optimal way of loading the goods in order to maximize the utilization of the transportation equipment? For example, how should the pallets be layered and stacked in order to fill out a trailer?
Route: What is the optimal route for the goods to take from their origin to their final destination?
For example, which port of export and port of import should be used for an ocean shipment? Can multiple customer deliveries be serviced by the same truck as it travels through a given region?
Mode/Carrier/Service Level: What mode of transportation should be utilized? What transportation service provider should be assigned? What service level is required? Selecting between different modes, carriers and service levels can involve complex cost and transit time tradeoffs.
All of these variables and more need to be considered. In addition, there are multiple operational constraints that need to be adhered to, including:
Pickup & Delivery Time Windows: On time pickup and delivery of the goods is often the primary constraint to be considered when optimizing transportation. For example, when is the material ready to ship? When does the customer require it to be delivered? When is the facility open to receive or ship goods?
Carrier & Equipment Capacity: Optimizing shipments needs to account for the operational constraints of the transportation service providers who physically move the goods. For example, how much capacity does a given transportation carrier have for a given portion of the network for a given time period? What is the frequency of service between a particular pair of ocean ports? How many pieces of equipment are available?
Location Capacity: Warehouses, manufacturing facilities, cross-docks and other transportation related locations have finite capacity to handle goods. For example, how many dock doors are available for loading or unloading products? How long does it take to cross-dock freight from the distribution center’s receiving to shipping areas?
Customer Compliance: Customers often place constraints on how their goods need to be shipped.
For example, certain goods cannot be consolidated or co-loaded with other goods. Specific equipment or special services may be required (e.g., inside delivery, high value goods).
The net result of these many facets of optimizing transportation is a highly complex and computational intensive process. The challenge is even greater given the operational nature of the transportation process. Companies typically don’t have weeks or days to make decisions, often they only have hours or minutes to determine the best plan.
The way that traditional transportation management systems solve this complex problem is by using either heuristics-based algorithms or optimization techniques. The former are generally faster and less resource intensive, while the latter usually take much longer to run and require significant compute resources, but achieve a more optimal solution.
Oracle Transportation Management is unique in the field of transportation management systems in that it allows the user, through its bulk planning feature, to ‘dial up’ their solution quality. The user has an option so they can choose heuristic based algorithms for larger sets of orders (where optimization would take too long to run) and optimization engines for smaller sets of orders.
The powerful combination of Oracle WebLogic, tuned to run faster on Oracle Exalogic, communicating via InfiniBand to the Oracle Transportation Management database on Oracle Exadata, using the Smart Scan and Flash Cache capabilities, yields unprecedented performance gains in runtime for Oracle Transportation Management’s bulk planning process and allows transportation planners to ‘dial up’ the optimization techniques.