LoDI Interim Co-Directors Bring Professional Passion to Logistics
August 5, 2020
With the rise of e-commerce and technological advancements, the Logistics and Distribution Institute (LoDI) currently housed in the Speed School of Engineering, is keeping its finger on the pulse of the latest global advancements in the study and practice of logistics. Led by co-directors Monica Gentili and Lihui Bai, LoDI is a multi-disciplinary center under the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation (EVPRI). LoDI is dedicated to improving the practice of logistics, producing multi-disciplinary research, preparing future leaders in logistics related fields, and collaborating with companies around the globe to innovate new production, delivery and service processes.
LoDI’s focus areas currently include logistics in supply chain, health care, energy system and social services, as well as their integration with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, autonomous and connected vehicles, and drones.
LoDI Research Features Variety of Disciplines and Industries
Both women, who are associate professors in industrial engineering, were appointed to hold the interim co-directorship of LoDI in March 2020 by UofL EVPRI Kevin Gardner. Gardner said the two have transformed LoDI in the few short months since they have been co-directors.
“They are providing to everyone an exemplar of collaborative and inclusive leadership,” he said. “I have every confidence in the tremendous potential of LoDI to change the face of engineering, and that the scope and influence of LoDI will grow immensely in the coming years under their leadership.”
Gentili, whose background includes a focus on transportation and distribution problems, said that she and Bai have a long history of collaboration and research that fits the LoDI mission and thematic areas. For Gentili, that includes applying optimization techniques in a variety of settings. “I started my degree in statistics, and specialized in operations research and applied mathematics. In logistics, you use many of these tools to solve problems of logistic operations. How do we bring the right number of items in the right moment to the right place? This is so fascinating to me,” she said.
Bai also did training in operations research. Her studies in transportation network analysis established the foundation for modeling capabilities, research and teaching in optimization and logistics courses in Industrial Engineering. The research that most energizes Bai is helping a company or organization improve efficiency through computerized mathematical models and analytics. “What excites me most is getting to work with domain experts in different fields and get firsthand knowledge on how they operate. That knowledge will drive our analytics and model development,” she said.
Bai acknowledged that the nature of logistics planning means it is often done as “behind the scenes” work. “What happens is that there is a new technology breakthrough that really excites people, but then figuring out how that technology could be deployed in the most efficient manner – that’s where we come in to help,” said Bai.
Bai provided a perfect scenario of this concept in action. Since COVID-19, the School of Medicine developed a decontamination program to sterilize N95 PPE masks for re-use. “There are days when they need to send a van to more than a dozen different healthcare organizations and collect the contaminated masks, and then also use the same van to deliver the sanitized masks,” said Bai. “How do we help create the most efficient routes for the van? This is a timely example of how to execute a technological breakthrough on the ground level,” she said.
While the notion of logistics may naturally invoke thoughts of manufacturing or transportation sectors, Gentili explained that logistics goes far beyond those to influence multiple industries and fields.
“When Lihui and I started this co-directorship, we realized that when we say the word logistics, people are always thinking about manufacturing and transportation industry, such as how to ship or organize a fleet of vehicles, for example,” said Gentili. “Logistics is about bringing the right amount of supply to meet the demand, but this supply can be not only in manufacturing, but in a variety of settings. We would like, as a vision of our multi-disciplinarity, to promote the message that logistics can go into different disciplines” she said.
An example of this is the Pallets to Puppies project, where Gentili and her IE colleagues (Drs. Gue and Gerber) worked with the no-kill shelters of the Kentucky Humane Society. The project used logistics methodologies to determine the most efficient way to allocate available animals to ten different adoption facilities and free up capacity, thereby reducing animals’ time in shelter and saving animal lives.
One industry where logistics is playing an increasingly essential role is in healthcare, noted Gentili. “In the world of logistics planning, we must match supply with demand. That supply can be traditional such as production from a factory, but in a healthcare setting that supply can also be how many doctors in a healthcare network, or how many PPEs we have amid COVID-19,” said Bai.
Demand used to be how many units of a particular product were ordered by a retailer, or by a dealer network in the case of the car assembly plant for Ford. Now it might be how many cases of PPEs are required at each hospital during different times. “If supply means doctors in a network, then demand would be how many patient visits are required for a particular time horizon,” she explained.
Aligned with this multi-disciplinarity vision, affiliated faculty within LoDI includes such diverse disciplines as social work, medicine, geosciences, public health, school of business, urban and public affairs, computer science engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and of course industrial engineering.
Education in Logistics Evolving with E-Commerce and Technology Innovations
While research is foundational, LoDI is also busy educating the next generation of engineers and researchers on the latest in logistics. At Speed School, from undergraduates through PhD level, students are being equipped with knowledge sought by employers in a wide variety of industries, said Gentili.
Faculty and students at LoDI continuously engage with local industry partners to make advances in the field through formulation of solution methodologies, working towards implementation and evaluation. In turn, partner companies will enjoy access to the talents of engineering students and potential prospective employees while they are still seeking their degrees.
“We are providing students with the tools and education they need to be up to date with new technologies,” said Gentili. “We have one PhD student looking at logistics for using drones to deliver vaccines or medications to rural areas for disaster relief.”
“Logistics and Industrial Engineering are applied science,” added Bai. “One recently graduated LoDI fellow is currently working for Cox Automobile, the parent company of KBB (Kelly Blue Book) and is using his modeling and analytics skills to devise valuation models for used cars. Another recent IE PhD graduate is working at Humana and is applying his modeling skills to various insurance products. And of course, it’s no surprise three of our former students work for FedEx in a straight application of logistics,” said Bai.
“One IE master student expressed the career aspiration to become a healthcare executive,” she said. “Knowing logistics in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, as well as knowing the tools to help manage workflows in Operating Rooms, clinics or large providers’ networks, gives students the edge to lead in healthcare industry in the data era.”
As Gentili and Bai steer LoDI into the future, they hope to increase logistics education in the data era in the near future such as offering programs in the realm of Artificial Intelligence and Logistics. The two will work with community leaders in logistics to understand actual needs and will consult with other departments such as geography, urban planning, public administration and computer science on joint curriculum design.
If there is ever any doubt about the significance of the impact LoDI is having, Gentili turns to most recent IE PhD graduate Fatemeh Karami. In her doctoral dissertation, Karami has worked on the logistics of organ allocation, where there is a huge gap between supply and demand.
“Optimizing logistics to match the limited supply of organs to people in need and reduce disparity in transplant possibilities is critically important,” said Gentili. Karami’s work, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, has been recognized by the American College of Surgeons for its potential to save lives. LoDI is poised to continue making this kind of impact to our society, in its effort to address the Grand Challenges of UofL.