A team of researchers from HEC-ULg and the HEC-Montréal Business School have designed an automatic and interactive model providing solutions for the optimal loading of merchandise intended for transport by air. By taking into account a large range of constraints related to the industry it promises to save a lot of time and result in less fuel being used. The model is interesting both from an economic and ecological point of view.
Air transport companies are constantly reducing the period between the moment someone decides to send a parcel to the other side of the planet and the moment it is received by the person it is intended for. Today a parcel only takes a few days to reach the addressee. Efficiency and, in particular, speedy service is one of the constants of competition in the industry. However, speed does not always guarantee comfortable working conditions for the different parties involved nor does it include any effort to economise during the transportation of cargo. The researchers from HEC-ULg have made these factors their priorities.
Michael Schyns, Professor of management information systems explains. “In partnership with professionals involved in this area, we have created a mathematical model which makes it possible to optimize the loading of commercial aircraft. This means rapidly finding the best loading possible for the ULDs according to their weight and size and taking account of a whole series of constraints relative to this stage of transportation of merchandise”. (ULDs: Unit Load Devices: these are storage crates of standardized size, and include both containers and palettes, for example. Ed.). The creation of this model is in line with the operational research which generally aims to create tools to help company managers or public authorities in their decision-making, and therefore benefit from a practical, professional and concrete perspective. In this case, the research makes it possible to quickly find an optimal solution for the arrangement of merchandise, to facilitate the work of the loadmaster who is the person in charge of the loading of aircraft, to increase the maneuverability of the craft and result in the use of less fuel which is profitable both from an ecological and economic point of view.
How does the model work? It is quite simple in reality. A set of data is encoded such as the size of the aircraft, its destination, the number of pre-established spaces, their size and position in the aircraft and the number of ULDs which must be loaded. In barely two seconds, the model suggests an optimal arrangement of the ULDs. By comparison, an experienced loadmaster needs a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes at the same stage of the work, to find an acceptable arrangement (one which satisfies all the technical and safety constraints) but not necessarily the optimal one (which optimizes fuel consumption).