Research helps shipping companies save millions and save the planet

Shipping companies will be better able to organise their empty containers and the routes on which they travel, thanks to the development of a new optimisation model. The new system will improve logistics, saving time and money and reducing emissions.

The tool relies on a set of complex mathematical models to create a sophisticated decision support system for helping liner companies plan their best routes and fleet deployment. It optimizes routing of laden and empty containers, which will minimize unnecessary movements of vessels, reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. ShippingContainersweb

Dr Shahin Gelareh, from the University of Portsmouth, undertook the research in conjunction with the University of Southampton as part of strategies to reduce emissions in line with Paris agreement on climate change. The long-term aim is to reduce CO2 emissions from every shipping container transported by 15 per cent until 2020.

Dr Gelareh said: “The system allows liners to optimise their network of ships and containers under different scenarios by taking into account costs, fleet size, demand and flow of laden and empty containers. This means better use of the company’s assets, minimising the total cost of transportation and repositioning of empty containers. And by reducing inefficient repositioning of containers we reduce emissions.”

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, maritime shippers spend on average US $100 billion per year on operating their container assets, of which around $16 billion is spent on repositioning empty containers. In 2015 the volume of ‘traffic’ through global ports was more than twice that of the number of vessels delivering and collecting goods, suggesting a significant amount of repositioning activity.

Dr Gelareh, Senior Lecturer in Operations Research and Business Analytics, says this is partly due to the East-West trade imbalance which is continuing to expand, an operation that is becoming increasingly costly. Container trade imbalance is a by-product of a container shipping supply chain in which the number of export and import containers and type of containers differs significantly.

“In 2015 carriers operating between Asia and North America on the three major East-West trade routes – TransPacific, TransAtlantic and Europe-Asia – had to reposition 1.2 million more container units than they did in 2014. This reflects an increasing imbalance on the trade routes.

“A major part of this imbalance is due to the uneven distribution of production and consumption centres and the nature of imported and exported goods in different economies around the globe. In developing countries, the volume and value of imported goods is often significantly more than exported freight. While in some developed countries the imbalance occurs because the import and export containers are not the same size.

“The decision support system involves a complex algorithm designed to best manage the intricate operations required of a major shipping company.”

The results of the project are published in the Journal of Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review.

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