Outlook 2016

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As one of five industry thought leaders, I share my observations and insights on potential critical issues likely to impact the warehouse/DC sector this year in the January/February 2016 issue of the WERC Sheet.

Contributors to WERCSheet’s Outlook 2016 panel include: Steve Johnson, managing principal, Johnson Stephens Consulting; Jennifer Pazour, Ph.D., assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Norman Saenz, managing director, St. Onge Company; Geoff Milsom, director, enVista; and Lawrence Dean Shemesh, president-CEO, OPSdesign Consulting.

My Outlook for 2016 is provided below:

The millennial generation
Jennifer Pazour, Ph.D.

The millennial generation has a major stake in defining both what the warehouse industry needs to do, as well as who will help get it done.  Specifically, the millennial generation is the warehouse industry’s current and future customers, as well as its workforce.

From a customer perspective, millennials are eager to do everything on their smart phones, and have very little patience for non-valued added activities, such as waiting.  This has implications for the warehousing industry as it changes order profile structures and lead time expectations.  Thus, distribution and logistics operations will need to be designed to be agile and responsive.

The millennial workforce, who are interested in making an impact, skilled in technology, and natural at identifying non-valued added processes, seem like a great solution to meet such dynamic customer demands.

For a warehouse to be responsive to dynamic customer demands, as well as profitable, utilization of both physical and human resources is a high priority.  An emerging way to achieve effective resource utilization in a dynamic environment is through the use of on-demand peer-to-peer logistics systems.

These systems use a business model for the movement and storage of goods that matches resources owned by a group of independent users to demand requests.  These systems are part of the “sharing economy” and utilize technology platforms that are able to provide wide reach visibility into untapped resource capacity (such as warehouse space, transport space, and delivery services).

A variety of such companies have sprung up in all aspects of the supply chain.  These include companies like FLEXE that connects companies with underutilized warehousing capacity to companies that need space, as well as companies that facilitate crowdsourced transport and delivery, like Deliv, Instacart, Amazon Flex, and Cargomatic.

On-demand peer-to-peer logistics systems have the ability to improve resource efficiency by increasing visibility and accessibility of existing, idle resource capacities.  They can reduce the costs associated with changing resource capacity, which allows companies to be more flexible.

In addition, these system, which require supply chain visibility and security, will also influence traditional warehousing and logistics operations.   Initiatives that improve supply chain visibility, create increased transparency and security, and embrace technology, will create new capabilities and business opportunities for traditional warehousing and logistics operations as well.

As an industry, we should position ourselves as proactively leading the charge to provide increased customer service capabilities by embracing new business models, technologies, and the changing workforce.

I’m excited to continue this discussion while I moderate a panel on “Crowdsourcing and Collaborative Warehousing and Logistics” at the 2016 Warehousing and Education Research Council Conference in Providence, RI in May.  To check out the conference preview and read the other through leaders’ thoughts on 2016, check out the WERC website.

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2015 End-of-Year Update

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Art done on my whiteboard by my talented brother-in-law Blake Neubert.

The red ink from grading exams combined with the still-green grass on campus has me in the holiday spirit.  Here’s my blog tradition of an end-of-year update.

The biggest update from 2015 was a change in location.  I made the move to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this summer and it has proved to be a Pareto-optimal life solution.  The Industrial and Systems Engineering department at RPI is a nice place to be a junior faculty.  Already, interactions with my colleagues have led to new insights and directions for my research, and mentoring has led to a potential industry project and an award nomination.  We love our new community in Troy, and my husband found a super-charged job as a data analyst for Vicarious Visions.

In 2015, I have been lucky to lead a talented research team that has helped further research on the development of mathematical representations of complex systems and processes to better understand the implications of their design and operation.  My research has focused on three main stems of discovery: military logistics, distribution systems, and peer-to-peer sharing systems.  In 2015, I received my first NSF funding.  The project focuses on peer-to-peer sharing systems, which are systems where a resource owned by an individual is collectively shared with a group of users. The shared resource can be a physical resource (like a power drill) or a human resource (like the ability to perform a task). By focusing on access over ownership, these Systems allow physical assets to be consumed as services and tasks to be completed by independent individuals. Examples include sharing economy companies like Uber, Flexe, Cargomatic, and Instacart.

I’m thankful that I was able to convince Shahab Mofidi to transfer with me from UCF to RPI.  He is working on his Ph.D. research on two-stage multi-product procurement decisions with cost fluctuations.  He did an excellent job presenting his work at ISERC (to 3 generations of his academic family) and INFORMS.  It’s fun to jointly put our heads together during our weekly research meetings.

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Shahab Mofidi presents to three-generations of his academic tree at the 2015 ISERC conference (Mofidi, Pazour, Meller, [Bozer, not pictured], White)

I started working with Uzma Mushtaque this summer, and she has jumped right into her research on developing and using models that incorporate assortment properties into random utility models.  Specifically, she is interested in how to explicitly model no-choice probabilities associated when individual users are recommended an assortment of options to choose from.  Her work has wide application from recommendations in e-commerce and Netflix, as well as facilitating freelancer options in peer-to-peer resource sharing apps.  Shahab and she gained valuable experience attending the Purdue CIBER PhD Consortium on International Operations Management.  Uzma is excited to have her first research abstract accepted to present at ISERC in 2016.  Finally, I am excited to have Yuan (Eric) Meng join my group.  He will research bi-level optimization models for peer-to-peer sharing systems.

As new members joined, a number of students graduated in 2015.  Patrick Reilly defended his Master’s Thesis this spring on “Propagation of Unit Location Uncertainty in Dense Storage Environments”.  With help from Dr. Kellie Schneider, a journal out of his work has been submitted for review.  Mohamed Awwad defended his Ph.D. dissertation this Fall, which focuses on searching in dense storage environments.  We have received constructive reviews back on a submitted paper and are currently working on revisions.  Finally, Faraz Ramtin (who was the first student to jointly work with me) graduated this Spring with his Ph.D. His work on MIAPP AS/RS is ongoing and has led to interesting discussions with other facility logistics researchers who are modeling other aspects of the technology used for distribution.  He has two accepted publications in IIE Transactions and is preparing a third contribution for publication.

 

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Mohamed Awwad defends his dissertation at UCF, while I attend proudly from NY.

Undergraduate researchers bring a rad perspective to our research.  This semester I had six undergraduates who worked on projects associated with supply chain modeling of ship-from-store fulfillment, sharing economy models for supply chains, and seabased logistics.

On my drive from Florida to New York, I got an awesome tour of Duke’s campus from Catherine Ninah, who was an undergraduate researcher at UCF and conducted research via an REU.  Catherine Ninah and Kristin Elias were involved with ICubed at UCF – their collaborations with art students created some cool art based on our seabased logistics research.

 

In 2015, I finally got to teach a logistics course in the spring, and enjoyed incorporating my research and the material handling and logistics US roadmap into the course.  I just wrapped up a rewarding class on the Design and Analysis of Supply Chains.  One of the introductory assignments was to have students create a “Supply Chain and You” slide to motivate the students to think about the importance and impact of the course topics on the students’ lives, and also allowed me to get to know the students better.   Here’s mine:

Supply Chains and Me

The course ended with a review of the topics helped by students’ memes.  Here is my favorite, which reminds students when calculating the amount of safety stock you need to use the square root of the lead time.

Final Exam Review - Fall 2015

My mission to create more Industrial Engineers has continued in 2015.  I enjoyed participating at CAMP Connect, presenting to the Eureka! Program of Girls Incorporated in the Capital Region, to the RPI student chapter of IIE about “What is Industrial Engineering and Why Does it Rock?” and attending the Women at Rensselaer Mentor Program.

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Attending the Women at Rensselaer Mentor Program.

My 2016 calendar already contains a number of projects that will allow me to learn a lot.  Some I am most excited about include an interdisciplinary academic-industry partnership proposal on smart, secure on-demand authorization systems for logistics and distribution  (with material scientists and computer science researchers from SDSMT), presenting at the Transportation Research-Board workshop on “On-Demand and Sharing Economy for Freight” and leading a panel discussion at the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) on Crowdsourcing and Collaborative Warehousing and Logistics.

Cheers!

Jen

Move to Rensselaer

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I made the move this summer to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and am excited to be part of the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Department.

Some initial observations I have had:

  1. I’ve found a nice home in the Industrial and Systems Engineering department, which has research expertise in supply chains, cognitive and social networks, and infrastructure resiliency.  My research in modeling of supply chains and logistics systems is valued, and I am certain I will learn a lot from my colleagues.  It’s also a good sign that a large portion of the faculty’s favorite food is pizza.
  2. I appreciate Rensselaer’s joint emphasis on research and teaching, and connect with the ideas of The New Polytechnic, which “supports promising areas of interdisciplinary research and learning, and which uses the most advanced tools and technologies to unite a diversity of perspectives.”
  3. I just finished the first week of class and have been impressed with the students’ enthusiasm for the subject – Supply Chain Design.   Still left to figure out is how to write on a chalk board without the “squeaky” sound.
  4. Jennifer really is a popular name.  There are two new Jennifer faculty members on campus,  another Jennifer organized our orientation, yet another Jennifer handled my paperwork in HR, and yet another Jennifer helped me submit my first NSF funded proposal.
  5. We are proud to be Troybots.  Luke and I are living in downtown Troy near the Hudson River in a building from the late 1800’s that has been renovated into lofts.  We are loving our new place and community.  Troy is super walkable with lots of independent restaurants and shops and has really cool architecture.  I even get my dream of walking to work – it is just up 20 flights of stairs.Troybots

Please note my new contact information.  My new email: pazouj@rpi.edu is a little weird, not having the last letter in my last name.

Successful Defenses

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Congrats to Dr. Faraz Ramtin, who successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation thesis entitled, “Modeling and Analysis of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems with Multiple in-the-aisle Pick Positions,” and to Patrick Reilly, who successfully defended his M.S. thesis entitle, “Propagation of Unit Location Uncertainty in Dense Storage Environments.”

I am super proud of both students, who are excellent researchers and human beings.

 

 

Faraz’s dissertation consists of three contributions all focusing on a special type of case-level order fulfillment technology – an “Automated Storage and Retrieval System with Multiple in-the-aisle pick positions.” These semi-automated systems are common in temperature-controlled warehouses.  Our first contribution includes the first study to analyze AS/RS with multiple in-the-aisle outputs. We develop expected travel time models for random storage policies and provide design insights into these systems.  In our second contribution, we considered the use of MIAPP-AS/RS to fulfill orders for non-identical items’ demand, which relaxed some of the assumptions we made in the first contribution. Specifically, we focused on an important practical design decision, the optimal SKU assignment problem. We studied the impact of different pick position assignments on system throughput, as well as system design trade-offs that occur when the system is running under different operating policies and different demand profiles. We developed optimization models to find the optimal assignment that minimizes the expected travel time.  Finally, we developed optimization models for the SKU-to-pick position assignment problem for dedicated and class-based storage policy for MIAPP-AS/RS.  By exploiting the structure of these optimization models, we decomposes the problem using Benders decomposition.

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The first two contributions of Faraz’s dissertation work has been accepted for publication:

  • Ramtin F., Pazour J. A. “Analytical Models for an Automated Storage and Retrieval System with Multiple in-the-Aisle Pick Positions”. IIE Transactions, 46(9), 968-986.
  • Ramtin F., Pazour J. A. “Product Allocation Problem for an AS/RS with Multiple in-the-Aisle Pick Positions”. IIE Transactions, Accepted Manuscript.

He is working on the manuscript of his third contribution, which explores a dedicated storage policy in these systems.

Patrick’s work focuses on dense storage environments and adds an additional dimension to the warehousing literature in that area, specifically item location uncertainty.  Effective space utilization is an important consideration in logistics systems and is especially important in dense storage environments. Dense storage systems provide high-space utilization; however, because not all items are immediately accessible, storage and retrieval operations often require shifting of other stored items in order to access the desired item, which results in item location uncertainty when asset tracking is insufficient. Given an initial certainty in item location, we use Markovian principles to quantify the growth of uncertainty as a function of retrieval requests and discover that the steady state probability distribution for any communicating class of storage locations approaches uniform. Using this result, an expected search time model is developed and applied to the systems analyzed. We also develop metrics that quantify and characterize uncertainty in item location to aid in understanding the nature of that uncertainty. By incorporating uncertainty into our logistics model and conducting numerical experiments, we gain valuable insights into the uncertainty problem such as the benefit of multiple item copies in reducing expected search time and the varied response to different retrieval policies in otherwise identical systems.IMG_1745

Material Handling Education Foundation Scholarships

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I’m honored to be featured in the Where are they now? article in the MHI Solutions Magazine.  [PDF] You have to read through to the bottom to find my favorite quote from the article, which is

“I find the work extremely rewarding,” Pazour said.  “One of the aspects that I really like about my job is that I get paid to learn.  I’m both creating knowledge and disseminating knowledge to my students, and that’s very rewarding.”

I’m even more excited to announce that two of the students in my research group are recipients of a 2015/2016 Material Handling Education Foundation Scholarship.  The Material Handling Education Foundation provides scholarships and educational opportunities to students studying in the field of material handling, logistics and supply chain.

  •  Shahab Mofidi was awarded the Lee Wood Scholarship for the 2015/2016 academic year from the Material Handling Education Foundation, Inc.
  • Catherine Ninah was awarded the Crane Manufacturers Association of America Honor Scholarship for the 2015/2016 academic year from the Material Handling Education Foundation, Inc.

Shahab Mofidi is a Ph.D. student in the IEMS department, and his research focuses on logistical decision making in environments that exhibit item location uncertainty.  Some examples include sea-based logistics, as well as ship-from-store fulfillment operations for e-commerce orders.  Catherine Ninah is an undergraduate student in the IEMS department, who has conducted research on sea-based logistics and healthcare logistics.  In addition, Catherine will participate in an REU (research experience for undergraduates) this summer at Duke University.  She’ll be working with The Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) on Risk Assessment and Modeling.

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Catherine Research Poster

2014 in Review

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To keep up with my blogging traditions, below you will find my list of highlights from this past calendar year.

  1.  My academic family grew. Ali Bozorgi, who was co-advised by Dima Nazzal and myself, become the first branch on my academic tree. Ali is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Clemson University and Greenville Health System.  My academic family tree should add two more branches in May when Faraz Ramtin will defend his Ph.D. dissertation and Patrick Reilly will defend his master’s thesis.
  2. Modeling is powerful stuff. My team and I spent lots of time and brain power developing models to quantify and evaluate sea-based logistics system design in the face of imperfect visibility.  We got great feedback when we presented this work to the Marines and the Navy in May, as well as hosted our Office of Naval Research managers in our lab in November.  I am proud of this work as it is illustrative of how mathematical models can be extremely powerful tools in understanding complex problems, and testing possible solutions.  I find research that builds mathematical models and uses them as a playground to test hypothesis and to gain understanding and insights into complex problems is rewarding and has impact.
  3. School is cool.  Education and learning continue to be cool and rewarding experiences for me.  I greatly enjoy my time in the classroom, having taught a graduate production and inventory control course, a graduate operations research course, and an undergraduate industrial engineering in the service sector course this past year.
  4. Conferences are good for my soul. I always look forward to professional conferences, but this year in particular I found conferences to be extremely valuable.  They allowed me to see my research from the forest rather than the trees, and I got to spend time in fun places with new and old friends.
  5. Fruitful and fun collaborations.  Such collaborations with colleagues and students resulted in a number of publications being accepted this year.
    1. Bozorgi, Ali, Pazour, Jennifer A., and Nazzal, Dima, 2014, “A New Inventory Model for Cold Items that Considers Costs and Emissions,” International Journal of Production Economics, 155, 114–125. (Special Issue: Celebrating a Century of the Economic Order Quantity Model).
    2. Carrano, Andres, Pazour, Jennifer A., Roy, Debjit, and Thorn, Brian, (to appear) “Selection of Pallet Management Strategies based on Carbon Emissions Impact,” International Journal of Production Economics. (Special Issue: Carbon-efficient Production, Supply Chains and Logistics).
    3. Pazour, Jennifer A., and Carlo, Hector J. (to appear) “Warehouse Reshuffling: Insights and Optimization,” Transportation Research Part E.
    4. Pazour, Jennifer A. and Roy, Debjit, (to appear) “Analyzing Rental Vehicle Threshold Policies that Consider Expected Waiting Times for Two Customer Classes,”‘ Computers & Industrial Engineering.

All in all, life was pretty great in 2014.  I’m looking forward to what’s in store in 2015!

Mathematical Modeling as Poetry

Mountain 1 by John Murray

Mountain 1 by John Murray

This semester I have been involved in an initiative called ICubed, which is a NSF-funded project that partners with several units at UCF to ensure broaden impact of  NSF funded projects through coordination and integration of education and research activities.  Undergraduate researcher, Krisin Elias, and I have been paired up with the Advanced Printmaking class for the STEAM component of the project.  The idea is to add “art” to “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” by having art and design students create science-inspired art based on our explanation of science and engineering concepts.

Our initial presentation, where Kristin and I present our research to the printmaking class, is coming up.  To get a feel for how the presentations go, Kristin attended another such presentation and she reported back that many of the questions that were asked were about the researchers’ passion and feelings for their work.  So, as I pondered my research passion on my drive home from work, I heard a great NPR interview on Here and Now with Gregory Orr, who is an American poet.  Towards the end of the interview, Gregory Orr talks about the power and beauty of poetry.  As someone who has never really got poetry, I was surprised to find myself relating so much to his description of poetry.  I just needed to replace the word “poetry” with “math modeling” and it totally resonated with me.  How’s that for an artist and engineer communicating?

Below is my translation of Gregory Orr’s comments about poetry turned into my thoughts about math modeling.

Mathematical modeling is a way of expressing what is in this world, and trying to make sense of it.  Modeling is all about affirming meaning out of a complex situation.  What is beautiful about mathematical modeling is that it asks you to turn the world into numbers and expressions.  It is a way of ordering the complex world, it is a way of organizing, it is a way of expressing, and of capturing the trade-offs of complex phenomena.  It is a way of expressing our world.  It is a way to make sense of it.