How to Solve Vehicle Routing Problem: Last-Mile Delivery Optimization with AI

How to Solve Vehicle Routing Problem: Last-Mile Delivery Optimization with AI

Dorota Owczarek - April 19, 2022

In a world where online shopping has become the norm, timely and accurate last-mile delivery is more critical than ever. Unfortunately, this final stage of the delivery process is also one of the most expensive and challenging. Luckily, artificial intelligence is here to help. AI is already revolutionizing logistics and supply chain management, and it can help optimize last-mile logistics and reduce costs. In this article, we will discuss why last-mile delivery is so expensive and how machine learning solutions can benefit route and scheduling optimization. We will also provide a few case studies that showcase successful AI-based last mile solutions implementations.

Why Is Last-Mile Delivery So Expensive?

A few factors contribute to the high costs of last-mile delivery. One primary reason is that last-mile logistics is a very complex process. There are many variables to consider, such as traffic congestion, route restrictions, and customer preferences. In addition, the last mile is often the most expensive part of the delivery process due to fuel costs and labor expenses.

Total delivery cost and the impact of last mile delivery cost

Total delivery cost and the impact of last mile delivery cost

Finally, companies must also factor in the cost of failed deliveries, returns, and reverse logistics when planning a shipment. These factors make it challenging to optimize last-mile delivery and reduce costs.

The Growth of E-commerce and Food Delivery

The growth of e-commerce has only made last-mile delivery more challenging. With the increase in online sales, there is a greater demand for timely and accurate deliveries. Customers expect options for same-day delivery and even one-hour delivery.

Food delivery is another sector that is experiencing rapid growth. In the US, food delivery orders are expected to grow at a rate of 20% per year through the 2020s. This high demand for food delivery has put a lot of pressure on last-mile logistics providers to improve their efficiency and reduce costs.

Seasonal Logistics Challenges

Another challenge that last-mile delivery providers face is the seasonal nature of their business. The demand for deliveries can vary significantly from month to month or even week to week, with the highest peaks close to globally celebrated holidays (e.g., Christmas, Chinese New Year, Diwali) as well as commercial holidays (e.g., Black Friday). This makes it difficult for companies to plan resources and schedule their deliveries efficiently for specific shopping periods.

How Do You Optimize Delivery Operations?

To optimize delivery operations, you need a system that can efficiently manage all of the variables involved in the process. That’s where machine learning comes in. Machine learning algorithms can learn from data and improve over time. This makes them a perfect tool for optimizing complex processes like last-mile delivery.

There are several different machine learning algorithms, but some of the most commonly used in logistics are deep learning models based on neural networks and decision trees. Neural networks are good at handling complex data sets, while decision trees are good at identifying patterns in data. Both of these algorithms have been successfully used to optimize last-mile delivery operations.

Machine learning can optimize last-mile delivery by predicting customer preferences and routing vehicles accordingly. Artificial intelligence algorithms can also predict traffic patterns and congestion levels, allowing companies to plan their routes accordingly.

In addition, ML can help identify when a delivery is likely to fail or be returned. This information can then improve the scheduling process and reduce costs.

Route Optimization

One of the most critical aspects of last-mile delivery is route optimization. A well-optimized route can save time and money. There are a number of factors that you need to take into account when planning a delivery route, such as traffic congestion, customer preferences, and the availability of resources.

Machine learning algorithms can be used to optimize delivery routes. For example, a route planning deep learning model could be trained on historical data from a company’s order management system to propose the most efficient route for a given set of deliveries and accompanying variables. This data could include information on customer addresses, order details, and delivery times. The model would then use this information to generate suggestions for route optimization.

Delivery Scheduling

Another vital factor in last-mile delivery is scheduling logistics operations. Scheduling affects everything from how many delivery drivers are needed to how many vehicles are required. It’s essential to schedule deliveries to use resources efficiently, and customers get their orders on time.

AI can be applied to optimize delivery schedules. For example, a decision tree could be trained on historical data from a company’s order management system. This data could include information on customer addresses, order details, and delivery times. The tree would then use this information to generate suggestions for optimized schedules.

How delivery scheduling software works - gathering data on orders and planning accordingly deliveries - from arrival at transportation hub, through delivery scheduling to loading and finding optimal routs for final delivery

How delivery scheduling software works - gathering data on orders and planning accordingly deliveries - from arrival at transportation hub, through delivery scheduling to loading and finding optimal routs for final delivery

Vehicle Routing Problem

The Vehicle Routing Problem (VRP) is a common problem in logistics that involves planning routes for a fleet of vehicles. The goal is to minimize the total cost of the journey while considering factors like vehicle capacity, distance, time, and traffic congestion. There are many methods to solve vehicle routing problems, but the most common approach is to use a mathematical optimization algorithm like a heuristic or a genetic algorithm.

Factors to consider when planning last mile delivery in scheduling and route optimization of vehicle routing problem

Factors to consider when planning last mile delivery in scheduling and route optimization of vehicle routing problem

Recently, there has been a growing interest in using machine learning algorithms to solve VRP problems and finding the best route for the whole vehicle fleet. Advanced artificial neural networks models have shown to be effective at optimizing route plans. In particular, deep learning models have shown great promise for solving complex VRP problems and cutting operational costs.

Automated Visual Inspection Upon Truck Loading

As the last step before a truck leaves for its final destination, a visual inspection is often carried out to check that the goods have been loaded correctly. This process can be time-consuming and error-prone, especially if there are a lot of items to inspect.

Recently, there has been growing interest in using machine learning algorithms for automating visual inspections. Advanced artificial neural networks models have shown to be effective at detecting errors in loading operations. In particular, deep learning models have shown great promise for automating complex visual inspections. The models can identify defective parcels in an image and mark them for review by a human inspector. This solution saves time and money by automating the visual inspection process.

Dynamic Pricing

Another challenge in last-mile delivery is pricing. It’s essential to price orders correctly so that you’re making a profit while still providing excellent value to the customer. Brokers are being phased out in favor of automatic machine learning algorithms that assist businesses in choosing the finest possible carrier for operational efficiency and reduced delivery costs. Dynamic pricing in logistics is a subject we thoroughly described in our previous article.

Autonomous Deliveries

The final frontier in last-mile delivery is autonomous deliveries. With the rise of self-driving cars, it’s only a matter of time before we see autonomous trucks or dedicated robots making deliveries. Autonomous delivery vehicles can navigate streets on their own and deliver packages to customers’ homes. This technology has the potential to revolutionize how we do last-mile delivery. There are many challenges to overcome before this becomes a reality, but there is no doubt that autonomous deliveries will play a significant role in the future of logistics.

Many companies are working on developing autonomous delivery vehicles. Some notable examples include Amazon, UPS, and Google. We’ll likely see more companies enter this space in the coming years.

Chatbots for Improved Customer Experience

Chatbots are commonly used to provide customer support or sell products and services. Recently, there has been a growing interest in using chatbots for last-mile delivery.

Chatbots can be used to provide customers with information about their orders. For example, a chatbot could give the customer a tracking number for their order. This would allow the customer to track the progress of their order online.

Chatbots can also be used to answer questions from customers about their orders. For example, a chatbot could help the customer resolve a problem with their order. This would help improve customer satisfaction with the company’s delivery service.

AI in Last-Mile Logistics - Case Studies

Now that we’ve seen how machine learning can optimize last-mile delivery let’s take a look at some case studies where AI has been successfully used in this area.

Scheduling Deliveries by Predicting an Optimal Time of Delivery for Last-Mile Logistics

A company operating in the last-mile logistics sector was struggling with high failed delivery rates due to non-optimal scheduling of deliveries.

nexocode engineering team proposed a data-driven optimization approach that combines artificial intelligence modeling with fleet management optimization to tackle this challenge. The solution we developed focused on delivering a predictive scheduling model integrated with a deliveries scheduler and route planner.

The ML model predicts the probability of delivery success as a function of inputs such as time, region, address, weekday, vehicle, weather, has doorman/receptionist, building type, parking difficulty, real-time traffic data, etc. The predictive scheduling module optimizes routes and ordering of the deliveries to ensure that the driver delivers the order at the right moment.

The solution reduced failed delivery rates by 60% by predicting the optimal time of delivery and scheduling deliveries accordingly. You can read more about this case study here.

Scheduling deliveries by predicting an optimal time of delivery for last-mile logistics

Scheduling deliveries by predicting an optimal time and planning delivery routes for last-mile delivery problem

How Amazon Forecasts Demand to Allow For 1-Hour Deliveries

To offer one-hour delivery, Amazon has to predict demand for a particular product and plan stock-ups at local depots. This is a difficult task, but Amazon has been able to do it through machine learning algorithms.

Amazon’s forecasting system considers a number of factors, including past sales data, customer ratings, and inventory levels. The system also uses machine learning models to predict how much demand will increase during busy periods, such as Christmas or Black Friday.

This system allows Amazon to offer one-hour delivery for many products. You can read more about it here.

Route Optimization Algorithm That Lowers Operational Costs and the Environmental Impact of Deliveries

Greenplan, a DHL-financed start-up, is driving sustainable logistics by developing a route optimization model that targets the reduction of CO2 emissions.

The algorithm developed by Greenplan is called a “last-mile” algorithm, as it is designed to optimize the routing and scheduling of deliveries in the last mile of a supply chain. The algorithm uses a number of inputs, including customer demand data, delivery data, traffic data, and weather data.

The results of using this algorithm have been impressive. In tests, it was found that the costs of deliveries could be reduced by up by 20%, compared to standard route optimization solutions, simply by lowering kilometers driven and thus lowering the carbon footprint. You can read more about it here.

Off-The-Shelf Route Optimization Solutions

Many off-the-shelf solutions can help route planning and optimize your last-mile deliveries. Route optimization solution uses a variety of algorithms to optimize delivery routes. Usually, route optimization software is available as a SaaS product so that you can get started quickly without a lot of investment.

Each of these solutions has its own strengths and weaknesses. You will need to evaluate them carefully to see which one is the best fit for your organization. Additionally, these generic solutions often do not consider the company’s specific needs. As a result, these solutions may not be as effective as they could be.

Bringing Last-Mile Delivery Efficiency With Tailored Machine Learning Models

To get the most out of last-mile delivery, it is often necessary to tailor a machine learning model specifically for the company’s needs. This involves understanding the company’s business and understanding how machine learning can be used to improve its operations. A tailored model will take into account the company’s specific needs and the available data.

Once a suitable machine learning model has been found, it is necessary to implement it into the company’s systems. This can be a difficult task, as it often requires changes to the company’s IT infrastructure. It is crucial to have a team of experts who can implement the model and ensure it is working correctly.

Custom machine learning solutions for improvement of last mile delivery processes

Custom machine learning solutions for improvement of last mile delivery processes

Advantages of Custom AI-based Software for Optimizing Delivery Process

There are several advantages to using custom AI-based software for optimizing delivery processes:

  • Increased accuracy - model, trained on specific company data will be a more optimal solution than a generic one.
  • Increased efficiency - a machine learning algorithm tailored for your company will be more efficient than a generic solution. Custom-built solutions for logistics can provide complex functional features and link into your system to offer insight and comprehensive data on your distribution process.
  • Increased flexibility - custom AI-build solutions in logistics are more flexible; as the company decision-maker, you decide how and where to integrate it with other systems, which features should be built on top of the solution, and how to alter ML outcomes depending on the environment.
  • Increased scalability - a custom last-mile delivery solution tailored for your company will be able to handle more significant amounts of data than an off-the-shelf solution. It can be scaled in various directions depending on the current needs.
  • Increased ROI - the return on investment for AI for custom build solutions is usually higher as they target the most critical business processes.

These are just a few advantages of using custom AI-based software for optimizing delivery processes. To get the most out of last-mile delivery, it is important to implement it strategically into the company’s systems. With the right tools in place, last-mile delivery can be more efficient and cost-effective than ever before.

Best Practices for Optimizing Last-Mile Delivery Services

While best management techniques can vary from business to business, the practices below can be applied across a whole logistics & supply chain business.

Leverage Modern Technologies That Fit Your Business Needs

Many modern technologies available today could help logistics companies improve their delivery services last mile. And businesses looking to avoid hiring software engineering professionals in their company to save money can opt for outsourced, customized, final mile delivery systems. The same is true for delivering last-mile software solutions by hiring offshore tech firms. Custom-built solutions for logistics can offer advanced functional features and integrate with your system to provide visibility and detailed data about your distribution process. Look for companies that have experience not only in specific technology but also a portfolio that showcases other successful implementations for the logistics industry. Check out nexocode’s portfolio and reach out to us if you’re interested in building a custom AI-based solution.

Analyze & Assess Data

If the software for your delivery last mile is developed or implemented, the data available for analysis can identify gaps in your delivery last mile plan. Make sure to invest in professional data science analysis for your last-mile delivery problem. A good AI provider will suggest a data collection strategy that will improve the accuracy of your model and provide better value for your company. With your data house in order and a straightforward process for data management, you will be able to shape your data into an actual business asset and supercharge your analytics. A customized last-mile solution integrating business intelligence can help determine where cost savings could happen or be achieved.

Establish Standard Procedures

Once you have base-level historical information, you can analyze this information for improved procedures within your company. A data-depth analysis is a crucial element for designing highly engineered plans. The best logistics companies leverage such plans for their own operations by identifying and setting up standards of operations as well.

Monitor Driver, Not Just the Vehicle

Many logistics businesses focus purely on deliveries and vehicles rather than drivers. Maintaining a close eye on your drivers is one of the best ways to improve safety and efficiency during last-mile delivery. This can be done by using a combination of advanced data analytics and AI, which will help identify unsafe driving habits or areas where improvement is needed. In addition, this type of system can also optimize routes for each driver, taking into account their skills and working schedules.

Observe Your Customers as Well

It’s not just about the deliveries and the drivers. You also need to keep a close eye on your customers, including their changing needs. Keeping an eye on customer satisfaction and ordering trends can be handy. Maintaining records of the customer’s transactions is essential for identifying customer expectations and possible problems. By using a combination of AI-based analytics and customer feedback, you can improve your delivery last-mile process to meet customer demands better. This will help keep them happy while ensuring that your company is able to stay ahead of the competition.

The Future of Last-Mile Delivery

The future of last-mile delivery is a bright one. With the help of artificial intelligence, logistics professionals can optimize their routes and schedules in a way never before possible. With its ability to analyze large amounts of data and identify patterns, machine learning can help companies optimize their routes and schedules, something that humans could never do alone.

When it comes to your last-mile problem, don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact nexocode today! Our team of AI experts has extensive experience in developing AI-based software solutions for logistics & supply chains.

About the author

Dorota Owczarek

Dorota Owczarek

AI Product Lead & Design Thinking Facilitator

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With over ten years of professional experience in designing and developing software, Dorota is quick to recognize the best ways to serve users and stakeholders by shaping strategies and ensuring their execution by working closely with engineering and design teams.
She acts as a Product Leader, covering the ongoing AI agile development processes and operationalizing AI throughout the business.

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This article is a part of

AI in Logistics
20 articles

AI in Logistics

Artificial Intelligence is becoming an essential element of Logistics and Supply Chain Management, where it offers many benefits to companies willing to adopt emerging technologies. AI can change how companies operate by providing applications that streamline planning, procurement, manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, transportation, and sales.

Follow our article series to find out the applications of AI in logistics and how this tech benefits the whole supply chain operations.

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