How Technology can Help Solve The Vehicle Routing Problem
(Photo : How Technology can Help Solve The Vehicle Routing Problem)

When the success or failure of a business boils down to the optimization of their delivery system, it becomes essential to form a system that is both efficient and also convenient. Gone are the days when route optimization was done using pen and paper. Today, businesses need quick and accurately planned routes that their drivers can access on the go using their smartphones. With the help of a route optimization app and in-built Google or Apple Maps this can be achieved by any size business. Before jumping the gun here, let's first dig deep into the issues related to vehicle routing and how businesses should deal with it.

First and foremost, the Vehicle Routing Problem is quite common in most businesses performing any kind of delivery. Solving it makes the delivery of goods and services smoother from one place to another.

In simpler words, the Vehicle Routing Problem (or VRP for short) starts from the very beginning of an order cycle, You will have to figure out the vehicle that you will assign for delivery, the order in which the vehicle will deliver, and then how to travel the minimum distance and cover the maximum number of delivery locations. 

So, now that we have understood the problem, the next step is to figure out a solution. This part is more complicated due to so many possible permutations, combinations, and possible constraints involved in the equation. It's a difficult problem to solve and so it's ok if you are struggling with it. Most people do. 

Why is VRP so Complex?

The Vehicle Routing Problem (VRP) has so many variables, including vehicles, drivers, roads, traffic, depots, and customer needs. Nevertheless, it is essential to solving it with a balance between cost efficiency and delivery efficiency. You may wish to maximize deliveries with one vehicle, but that also means that many deliveries may get delayed if the vehicle breaks down. An unexpected breakdown may cause delays which means you need to accommodate a change in your fleet to minimize delayed orders.

Adding a Time Window Variable:

The variables we have considered here are a fleet of vehicles, the number of parcels, and a team of drivers who need to deliver these from one or more depots. But these are not the only components that matter. Another factor that makes this really complex is delivery time. This is known as Vehicle Routing Problem with Time Windows (VRPTW). This layer of complexity added means you need to account for a variable that actually imposes a constraint upon a stop that will inevitably decrease the efficiency of a route. The time factor doesn't just affect the route, but you also are forced to recheck which parcels can go in the same vehicle and in which order it needs to be loaded.

The time window is an important parameter that needs to be met, or it could lead to refused deliveries, poor reviews, and unsatisfied customers.

Multiple Pickups and Deliveries: 

What we saw above was based on one constant- the central depots. But this model does not work for all businesses. For example, when a driver delivers a meal, he needs to visit different restaurants to collect the meals; this means multiple pickup points. The driver will have to correspond with multiple pickups as well as deliveries. This model is known as Vehicle Routing Problem with Pickup and Delivery (VRPPD).

The routing in the case of VRP is very different than VRPPD. Also, the freshness, time, and customer satisfaction also further complicate the route planning process.

Vehicle Capacity:

The vehicle you use for delivery has a maximum capacity you need to consider. As delivery boxes come in various shapes and sizes, the maximum delivery parcels that can fit into a vehicle is tough to calculate. You also have to consider the cargo weight with all the parcels. This is called Capacitated Vehicle Routing Problem (CVRP). Exceeding the cargo weight limit on a route may end up with you paying a fine and causing further delay.

Solving Common Routing Problems:

If you seek to solve these routing problems using manpower, you will need a lot of manpower and hours of labor and even then the final route may not be efficiently optimized. When a parameter like traffic or unexpected vehicle breakdown happens, the entire thing needs to be revised quickly, which gets tough to do manually.

Time Optimization:

If you look into routes that reduce the time to deliver, you will want to plan routes that account for minimum duration or time spent driving. Consider this model if you pay your drivers an hourly wage which will help in cutting costs and reducing overtime pay.

Distance Optimization:

If you pay your drivers based on mileage, then another optimization method is based on distance optimization. This means you will find a route which is shortest and requires minimum miles to complete. This will help in reducing the overall cost along with route optimization. 

As we have discussed before, manually solving this is not an option, especially when variables like VRPTW, VRPPD, and CVRP added. Manually, even for a small route this may take hours before you find a feasible route solution. The time you will save in delivery will be negated by the time spent planning. Also, using manpower to calculate routes will only add to the costs. Additionally, if there are last-minute changes then manual route planning fails to accommodate it.

But technology can beat the complexity with the help of written algorithms that can consider all the factors and work out various permutations and combinations in seconds and give you the needed route planning. You can make any changes i last minute without the need for costly labor. You also don't even need a desktop computer since a route planner app on your phone can do the job for you using third-party applications like Google or Apple maps. These apps are pre-installed in Android or Apple phones hence there is nothing additional needed to make it work. You just need to install the route optimization app and set it up your routes. Also, using your existing map apps is easier since you are already familiar with it. 

Even if you add additional factors like VRPTW, VRPPD, and CVRP, the time needed to compute does not really change. You not only save time while route planning, it streamlines your delivery process which truly showcases how technology enhances efficiency, saves time, and improves the business's chance to thrive and delight customers.

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