Grant Facilitates Emergence of Physical Internet

National Science Foundation Award To Improve Shipping Efficiency

Researchers in the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution have received $197,181 from the National Science Foundation to investigate ways to maximize efficiency in distribution and shipping centers. The grant, announced Tuesday by U.S. Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, will further establish the University of Arkansas-based center as the U.S. research leader on the emerging physical Internet initiative, which seeks to merge computing with modern transportation logistics to standardize shipping containers and share resources among companies.

“The innovations we will be studying will have a direct, positive impact on consumers once they are fully implemented,” said Russell Meller, professor of industrial engineering and director of the center. “Everything we buy has to be shipped somewhere, and if that transportation can be carried out more efficiently, everybody wins.”

Specifically, the funding will enable Meller and his Virginia Tech collaborator Kimberly Ellis to study the potential benefits of using standard sizes of shipping containers to move goods across the country, which would ensure that trucks and trains transporting goods are carrying the maximum amount of freight at any given time. The research will address what size these containers should be. Realizing greater efficiency this way will help deliver goods faster and take unnecessary trucks off the road, which reduces transportation costs.

The research may change the way companies store and transport goods. By creating greater efficiencies, these companies could save billions of dollars and reduce energy consumption. The research will also investigate the possibility of shared distribution systems to help businesses realize maximum efficiency. This could save money and reduce greenhouse gases by limiting the miles traveled in shipping and distribution.

The physical Internet is a new logistics and distribution paradigm that seeks to achieve the goals of the research mentioned above. It has the potential to make a significant economic impact, possibly in the billions of dollars annually if fully realized. The initiative could also significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The initiative includes research centers in Canada and France in addition to the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution.

Based at the University of Arkansas, the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The center collaborates with researchers at eight universities and approximately 30 member organizations. The physical Internet project has secured collaboration commitments from many leading companies that will provide leadership on logistics and distribution activities.

Meller is the Hefley Professor of Logistics and Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. His research has already led to solutions for making distribution centers more efficient, by designing and implementing innovative aisle designs that help companies respond quickly to customer orders.


Release date: 8/26/2010