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Project abi3l could redefine national and regional freight and logistics strategies

, a new "intelligent-agent" model has completed its proof of concept stage with funding support from the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency. The £1.4million, two year project, which has been based on GBFM’s freight model, has seen the project delivery consortium develop a new model which is calibrated to national freight statistics and is a first in dealing with the dynamics between freight, land use and the transport industry.

Already piloted on a port centric warehousing development on Merseyside, and running with massive computing power in the ‘cloud’ the model has achieved several ‘firsts’:

– The first integrated and predictive model of the UK freight transport system covering road, rail and ports.

– The first in terms of its scope and scale of application of this type of modelling.

– The first time such a comprehensive data set has been assembled relating to UK freight and logistics.

Government policy calls for investment in infrastructure to kick-start growth and the abi3l capability offers the chance to support evidence-based policy making across investment, regulation, fiscal measures and land use fronts.

While further validation, calibration and development is needed, it is clear that abi3l will offer new insights into the impact of building new ports or introducing other policy changes such as the selective application of weight limits, operating hours and urban logistics regulation. The model will also help devise solutions to some of the UK’s biggest transport and logistics challenges, including the need to ease congestion and reduce carbon emissions. The results of this project will attract the attention of both public policy makers and private investors.

The project delivery consortium was led by MDS Transmodal Ltd in partnership with LCP Consulting, Barloworld Supply Chain Software and with technical input from Cranfield School of Management’s Complex Systems Research Centre. Mike Garratt, Managing Director of MDS Transmodal, comments: "This project places us on the edge of a breakthrough by providing a predictive capability for step change policy and investment measures. We are delighted that all the hard work of the consortium has proved the concept on such a huge scale."

The Merseyside pilot

A pilot study was carried out using the abi3l model to test how the logistics market would adopt an increase in port-centric warehousing on Merseyside. The results showed that the location would attract a considerable expansion in logistics activity if more warehousing capacity was available. While the results of the pilot test are highly credible, the modelling and analysis is subject to some qualifications that will require further testing and experimentation.

Alan Braithwaite, Chairman of LCP Consulting and Visiting Professor at Cranfied, said:

"The abi3l project has shown that we can build models with this multi-modal bandwidth that generate results that support radical policy and investment decision making. There is still more work to be done but it is now clear that this technology will provide a toolset to support major companies and the public sector to collaborate intelligently on how to deliver sustainability in freight transport."

Jason Gardner, project director with Barloworld Supply Chain Software, comments:

"The team has delivered a unique agent model of the UK freight industry that will be a significant asset in embracing complexity within the design of future intelligent supply chains."

Dr Liz Varga, Director of Cranfield School of Management’s Complex Systems Research Centre, commented:

"We have overcome a huge range of technical and design challenges to deliver so many firsts from this project. It is exciting that the model is able to both represent and calibrate to reality and predict major changes in the operating system with credibility."

The importance of freight and logistics to the UK economy

Project abi3l will help redefine national and regional freight and logistics strategies. The freight and logistics industry is a massive part of the UK economy accounting for 7 per cent of all employment (2.3 million people), 9 per cent of GVA and is worth an estimated £75billion to the UK economy each year. In environmental terms it accounts for 25 per cent of transport emissions and 5 per cent of all national emissions.

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