A Discrete Simulation-Based Optimization Algorithm for the Design of Highly Responsive Last-Mile Distribution Networks
Author(s)Snoeck, Andre; Winkenbach, Matthias
Online and omnichannel retailers are proposing increasingly tight delivery deadlines, moving closer towards instant on-demand delivery. To operate last-mile distribution systems with such tight delivery deadlines efficiently, defining the right strategic distribution network design is of paramount importance. However, this problem exceeds the complexity of the strategic design of traditional last-mile distribution networks for two main reasons: (1) the reduced time available for order handling and delivery, and (2) the absence of a delivery cut-off time that clearly separates order collection and delivery periods. This renders state-of-the-art last-mile distribution network design models inappropriate, as they assume periodic order fulfillment based on a delivery cut-off. In this study, we propose a metamodel simulation-based optimization (SO) approach to strategically design last-mile distribution networks with tight delivery deadlines. Our methodology integrates an in-depth simulator with traditional optimization techniques by extending a traditional black-box SO algorithm with an analytical model that captures the underlying structure of the decision problem. Based on a numerical study inspired by the efforts of a global fashion company to introduce on-demand distribution with tight delivery deadlines in Manhattan, we show that our approach outperforms contemporary SO approaches as well as deterministic and stochastic programming methods. In particular, our method systematically yields network designs with superior expected cost performance. Furthermore, it converges to good solutions with a lower computational budget and is more consistent in finding high-quality solutions. We show how congestion effects in the processing of orders at facilities negatively impact the network performance through late delivery of orders and reduced potential for consolidation. In addition, we show that the sensitivity of the optimal network design to congestion effects in order processing at the facilities increases as delivery deadlines become increasingly tight.
SCALE Working Paper Series;2020-mitscale-ctl-04
last-mile distribution, simulation-based optimization, network design