Numbers stack up

A quiet achiever, Australia’s CSIRO is researching computational techniques for supply chain analysis and optimisation through its Adaptive Supply Networks Stream in the Division of Mathematical and Information Sciences.

Stream Leader Dr Simon Dunstall tells Logistics Magazine that the Stream provides industrial partners with quantitative analysis and insight into supply chain performance.

“For example, we identify optimal asset configurations or logistics operating policies for capital-intensive systems such as minerals supply chains and steelworks,” he says.

“We also create software tools that implement the computational techniques, and our industrial customers/adopters apply the tools for tactical planning, operations management and the harmonised coordination of supply network participants.”

Dr Dunstall says that a major part of the Adaptive Supply Network Stream’s work involves constructing data-management, collaboration and decision-support tools for managing grape intake and wine production.

“This has been an on-going initiative for several years, and our software-based deliverables are now integrated with the customer’s corporate databases using a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) platform,” he says.

“The use of SOA for transaction-based information systems is becoming more prevalent, but our collaborators use it for network-wide decision-support, which is quite new and different from the norm.”

Along with worldwide recognition, this project has led to CSIRO being invited to join the Wine Supply Chain Council (WSCC) headed by the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute at Georgia University of Technology in the US.

According to Dr Dunstall, the WSCC’s large-scale experiment in tracking the time, position and temperature of wine shipments bound for the US will generate valuable information for many companies involved in global logistics, not only those involved in wine production and distribution.

More generally, Dr Dunstall says the CSIRO’s value to organisations in the logistics and supply chain space is that it is able to apply mathematical, statistical and computing methods to create new approaches to significant problems in analysis and decision-making.

“We tend to get involved only when there are no out-of-the-box solutions,” he says.

For wine supply chains, Dr Dunstall says the Adaptive Supply Network Stream’s research finds that forecasting the time at which the grapes in each vineyard mature is crucial for the efficient and harmonious operation of the whole supply chain through to bottling.

“CSIRO has developed methods for doing this in an efficient and reliable way, using the kind of grape sugar-level sample measurements that many wine companies gather,” he explains.

“We have built our wine supply chain operations-management systems around this information.”

“In other supply chains there often is information like this, such as sales projections, production forecasts, expected sailing times, and so on.”

“All of this information is equally critical. However, new monitoring and communication technologies are helping industry assemble and process the raw data from which this sort of information can be derived more reliably.”

“Freight tracking technologies are a good example of this,” Dr Dunstall explains.

Outside the CSIRO’s wine industry work, Dr Dunstall points to the application of CSIRO’s simulation and optimisation expertise to various initiatives in national and global logistics, particularly in relation to decision-making in capital intensive supply chains.

“For example, we have been modelling the logistics of steel exports and assessing the operational performance of resources supply chains,” he says.

”The purpose of many of our projects in steelmaking and resources supply chains is to provide insight into how supply chains will operate dynamically when new assets, products or policies are deployed.”

“The key is to find, amongst many options, the most efficient and productive system that can achieve a certain level of performance such as throughput or waiting times,” Dr Dunstall enthuses.

“In a recent project we advised a steelmaker on optimum warehouse sizes for the future export volumes where the optimum avoids over-capitalisation and balances various components of operating costs.”

Dr Dunstall maintains that technologies of the future will turn data into information and then insight, predictions and conclusions.

“This will lead to knowledge-driven innovations in the way organisations can structure themselves and operate their supply chains,” he says.

“Such innovation will come from the mathematical and computational sciences.”

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