Thoughts on fleet management

It happens to all of us in Operational Research; we are asked what we do.  Sometimes I explain that I used to teach mathematics students at the university, and then add "I used to do the interesting bits of mathematics".  I mean no disrespect to my colleagues; it is simply that to non-mathematicians, the fact that somebody forecasts the demand for peanut butter in the supermarket, or ensures that there are enough hire cars at the airport, or that there is enough coverage for mobile phone signals - that is interesting mathematics.

The other day I met an enthusiast.  His job was to drive delivery vehicles for a big local company, and he had come into Exeter to promote the company's chosen charity for the year.  And he had a 40 ton vehicle with him, emblazoned with the name of the charity.  Exeter normally only allows such vehicles into the city to make deliveries and only on certain roads.  So I rarely see one close up.  Anyhow, he was happy to talk to passers-by and as most people were scurrying past without stopping, fearful (perhaps) that they might be approached to support the charity, I had the chance to spend ten minutes or so learning about his work and about the company's business. 

Operational Research has been involved with problems of fleet management in the past, but published papers tend to be very simplistic.  The reality for this business was much more complex than appears in the literature.  They had about 700 vehicles.  These were divided between two depots, one in the south and one in the north.  They vehicles were of several different types, and the one I was standing by was split into a frozen section and an ambient temperature section.  The company has regular contracts with certain clients, and short-term contracts for others - short-term might be for one load, or for a few to deal with fluctuations in the client's needs.

And so, I came away thinking about some aspects of decision-making for the management. 
  • When to replace or repair vehicles.
  • Purchasing policies.
  • Fleet mix decisions.
  • Location of the fleet.
  • Terms of each contract.
  • Whether to accept new contracts, long-term or short-term.
  • Assigning vehicles to loads.
  • Maintenance management.
  • Driver scheduling, training and hiring.
  • Vehicle routing
  • and so on ...

 It's enough to keep an O.R. person very busy indeed!


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