Marc Reimann, a Professor of Operations Management at Northumbria University in Newcastle aims to help logistics companies operate sustainably and reduce their environmental impact through his latest research on vehicle routing optimisation.

His project focuses on city logistics, where increasing demand for delivery of goods is in conflict with excess traffic and the resulting impact on air quality, which is leading to several cities planning to ban diesel-fuelled vehicles, including London, in the future.

A strategy that is currently growing in popularity is the use of electric vehicles and cargo-bikes to make deliveries in inner-city locations. However, little is known about the logistical implications.

“For example, both types of vehicles have much smaller capacity, smaller ranges and often smaller speeds when compared with regular trucks. So when they are inappropriately dispatched, the favourable per-kilometre environmental and economic impact of these vehicles can be outweighed by the disadvantages,” says Reimann.

In his study Reimann analyses a strategy which aims to combine the best of both worlds, namely large delivery trucks and small environment-friendly vehicles working in partnership.

“Specifically, we propose to enable trans-shipment between the large and small vehicles. This means the small vehicles do not have to travel all the way to reload at a depot which is typically located far outside the city centre, for logistical and financial reasons.

“Instead, they meet with and reload from the large vehicles which can also be utilised effectively in suburban and less central areas where traffic restrictions are less critical. Possible meeting points could be the yards or car parks of large suburban customers and motorway rest areas.

“Through computational analysis we have quantified the potential financial savings and environmental benefits from this strategy using a wide range of scenarios where the combined use of trucks with electric vehicles or cargo-bikes is promising.

“We live in times of rising land prices, highly populated cities with narrow streets and increasing customer demands, logistics companies and local authorities need to look at new, more sustainable approaches to solving vehicle routing problems in the context of city logistics.

“Our research shows that synchronisation between vehicles enables companies to use small and large vehicles to satisfy all customer demands,” explains Reimann.

Companies interested in having the model applied to their business in order to gain specific insights into possible improvements are welcome to contact Professor Reimann at: marc.reimann@northumbria.ac.uk.