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Sep 21, 2021 2021-09 Business Administration Faculty Research in Education

Conquering the last mile — Turning data into better delivery systems

For the past few years, there’s been a new visitor trundling along the sidewalks and byways of select schools, corporate campuses, and cities driven by six wheels and one simple mission — to make point-to-point food delivery fast, simple, and affordable. Since 2015, Starship Technologies has been pioneering autonomous food delivery with small robots in more than 100 cities. And they’re not alone. From restaurants to retailers, companies around the world are seeking new and innovative ways to bridge the “last mile” between themselves and their customers. And as someone who studies supply chains and logistics analytics, Mohammad Moshref-Javadi is fascinated by all these new opportunities and challenges.

“Last-mile logistics are some of the most complex parts of the supply chain,” said the new Gies teaching assistant professor. “They also account for more than 40% of supply chain costs and include several challenging optimization problems.”

Over the past several years – as a post-doctoral associate in the Megacity Logistics Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then as a visiting assistant professor at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business – he has researched last-mile logistics and autonomous vehicles. “I consider various problems in multi-channel and omni-channel distribution systems, including conventional delivery vehicles, transshipment models, multi-tier synchronized delivery systems, and delivery by autonomous robots,” explained Moshref-Javadi.

Increasingly, those delivery systems are becoming far more diverse, from drone delivery to Amazon Hub Lockers that simplify shipping while generating foot traffic for partnering stores. During his research at MIT and Northeastern University, Moshref-Javadi modeled and evaluated many of these systems, including a one-year study that explored a wide variety of delivery vehicles and distribution methods for UPS. One of the more interesting options combined traditional delivery trucks with on-board drones. By using short-range drones for light packages and drivers to deliver larger items, Moshref-Javadi showed another benefit of superior delivery models, leading to shorter delivery times. According to his research, this hybrid delivery method can reduce customer wait times by as much as 50% compared to conventional delivery vehicles.

Of course, it’s not all about the last mile. Moshref-Javadi also has years of experience helping the automotive industry and companies like Adidas and Goodwill Industries adopt technology to improve their production, transportation, and warehousing operations. In one project, for example, he helped an aluminum casting company optimize job scheduling by 30%, enabling the company to better utilize forging and press machines, as well as employees whose salaries represent a substantial part of operating costs.

Moshref-Javadi will be joining Gies’ Department of Business Administration, and he says there are many reasons he’s looking forward to joining Gies, one of the nation’s top public business schools. “I think the main reasons are conducting potential collaborative research and teaching new courses in business administration.”

Moshref-Javadi will be teaching courses in operations management and supply chain analytics at Gies. It’s not just the topics that drive him; it’s the interaction and constructive in-class discussions with students on the verge of beginning their own exciting careers. “I enjoy when I see students are able to apply these methods and techniques to real-world problems.”

In addition to teaching, Moshref-Javadi looks forward to collaborating with other Gies faculty as he continues his research in distribution systems and supply chain, and data-driven decision-making models.