Automatisch plannen met het algoritme van de Barge Planning Optimizer

The NexusZ/Modality Barge Planning Optimizer (hereafter: Optimizer) is a planning tool that uses an algorithm to draw up a schedule for optimised container transport between seaport and inland terminal. The Optimizer periodically retrieves the available data and uses this to calculate the most optimal distribution of containers across the available barges. When drawing up the schedule, the Optimizer takes into account the containers at all the terminals of the organisation and all the barges the organisation uses. The Optimizer enables barge planners to automatically plan 80 to 90% of containers, allowing them to only focus on exceptions.

Because the Optimizer synchronises with the Modality system via an API, it automatically has access to the required data. Through continuous updates, the Optimizer always has an up-to-date overview of the containers that require transport. Furthermore, the Optimizer can access master data such as available barges, the opening and closing times of terminals and the sailing schedules of the various barges.

How the Barge Planning Optimizer works
The Optimizer generates a schedule every fifteen minutes. The Optimizer ‘looks’ as far ahead as possible in that respect. Depending on the amount of data available, the Optimizer calculates the most optimal load for the barges. A planner can accept the schedule completely or partially. If a planner partially accepts the schedule, the Optimizer will reassess the most optimal distribution of containers in terms of time and barges in the next round of planning. In addition, looking further ahead allows the Optimizer to provide advice on the barge capacity that is required within a specific time frame.

The Optimizer takes daily practice into account. Is a specific barge always used to call at a specific terminal? Then the Optimizer’s algorithm incorporates this into the schedule. The Optimizer also considers factors such as the minimum or maximum call size at the seaport terminal or restrictions on waterways. This allows every organisation to use specific criteria when drawing up their schedule. These criteria are also referred to as ‘business rules’ and we make a distinction between generic business rules and organisation-specific business rules. Examples of generic business rules are:

  • The maximum barge capacity may not be exceeded
  • Containers need to be transported within a specified time frame
  • The minimum and/or maximum call size at the seaport terminal must be taken into account

Examples of organisation-specific business rules are:

  • When unloading containers at the DDE terminal, a maximum of ten containers bound for the DDN terminal may also be unloaded at the DDE terminal without being subject to additional ‘transfer/trucking costs’.
  • Consideration must be given to the limitations of a particular waterway. For example, different sections of a waterway may have different maximum capacities.

Based on these business rules and the ‘time window’ within which a container needs to be transported, the Optimizer draws up the schedule. A time window is determined by:

  • The earliest pick-up date and latest pick-up date at the seaport terminal versus the expected arrival date at the terminal or the latest unloading date of the container at the unloading destination
  • The date the container is loaded at the loading address versus the cargo opening and cargo closing at the seaport terminal

Based on the unloading date at the unloading destination, the Optimizer calculates the latest time at which the container must arrive at the inland terminal in order to be transported by truck for the last mile.

The establishment of a time window makes it possible to prioritise containers. Containers with a larger time window offer a greater degree of flexibility in terms of transport than containers that are registered just prior to transport. By prioritising containers, peaks and troughs in the transport of containers can be flattened as much as possible.

Please note: Generally speaking, 80 to 90% of containers can be planned with the Optimizer. However, there will always be exceptions. Containers that are not registered in a timely manner or for which the information has not yet been provided, for example, or containers that arrive too late to be transported by barge. Because most containers can be planned automatically, planners are able to fully direct their attention to finding solutions for these specific ‘problem cases’. These specific cases are listed in a ‘not assigned list’. This list is presented to the planners in an easily surveyable manner, allowing them to quickly identify and focus on containers that require attention.

Automated planning with the Barge Planning Optimizer

Automated planning with the Barge Planning Optimizer

Features of the Barge Planning Optimizer
The Optimizer offers the following features:

  • Continuously updated schedules
    Every fifteen minutes, the Optimizer retrieves the most recent data from the Modality system and recalculates the distribution of containers. It takes into account containers that have already been planned and the preferences of a planner.
  • Schedules involving multiple inland terminals
    Organisations may have several inland terminals where barges collect or deliver containers before they depart for the seaport terminal or call at the ‘final’ inland terminal.
  • Schedules for visiting multiple terminals in the port on time
    A barge often calls at several terminals in the seaport. The Optimizer ensures that these visits are performed in the most efficient (sequential) route.
  • Schedules based on Modality calls and provisional Optimizer schedules
    Normally, a planner – and therefore also the Optimizer – mainly plans based on calls that are generated in Modality. Since the Optimizer can look further ahead than Modality in this respect, it creates provisional schedules for calls that are further in the future. These provisional schedules are only listed in the database of the Optimizer, not within Modality. The provisional schedules generated by the Optimizer are included in the aforementioned ‘not assigned’ list. As soon as the call is next created in Modality, it replaces the provisional Optimizer schedule.
  • The Optimizer makes it possible to indicate the proximity of terminals to one another
    This information is used for advice regarding the expansion of a rotation with a visit to a terminal that is close to a terminal that is already being visited if this positively impacts the schedule.
  • Time windows
    The Optimizer plans containers based on the time window during which the container needs to be transported.
  • Prioritisation of containers
    Establishing a time window for each container makes it possible to prioritise containers. As a result, peaks and troughs in the transport of containers can be absorbed/flattened as much as possible.
  • Business rules
    The Optimizer uses time windows and business rules to draw up the most efficient and realistic schedule, in line with daily practice.

Benefits of using the Barge Planning Optimizer
Using the Barge Planning Optimizer results in considerable time savings and ensures that planners can work with maximum efficiency. Consequently, planners are able to flexibly respond to unexpected situations and ‘problem containers’. The barge capacity is used as optimally as possible and peaks and troughs in transport are absorbed and distributed more evenly. Furthermore, planners enjoy a more balanced workload. These benefits are possible because:

  • Most containers (about 80-90%) are automatically planned by the Optimizer. Planners only need to verify the schedule.
  • All exceptions are presented to the planner in a clear ‘not assigned list’, so that they can easily identify containers that require attention.
  • The Optimizer presents a proposal that the planner can adopt completely or partially. The containers accepted by the planner are recorded within the Optimizer. During the next round of planning, the Optimizer will consequently only focus on those containers for which the planning proposal has not yet been accepted.
  • Containers can be prioritised, making it possible to distribute them more evenly/better over a longer period of time. In addition, it becomes apparent at an early stage whether more barge capacity is required for a certain period.
  • Planners only need to focus on the exceptions and confirm the proposed schedule. Activities such as checking the arrivals and departures of ships, compliance with all business rules, etc. are performed by the Optimizer.

Integration with Modality
Modality and NexusZ have an exclusive cooperation agreement, which yields the following benefits:

  1. Synchronisation of master data
    When a new address is added in Modality or the name of a deepsea vessel is changed, this change immediately becomes apparent in the Barge Planning Optimizer as well. Changes to the master data are always made in Modality and synchronised with the Barge Planning Optimizer.
  1. Synchronisation of container data
    Modality and the Barge Planning Optimizer are in continuous communication. The Optimizer receives container updates from Modality, meaning any proposed schedule is always based on the current status of the container.
  1. Direct lines of communication
    In the event of technical issues, there is always direct coordination between NexusZ and Modality. The customer uses an integrated system and enjoys total support.


For more information about the Barge Planning Optimizer or to request a demo, please contact Modality directly via or at +31 (0) 180 531 035.

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