Operations Research grad student helps Newark optimize trash collection

January 3, 2011 under CANR News

Priyanka Jain, a master’s degree student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is working with the city of Newark to study ways to optimize residential trash pick-up and save costs.

Jain, who is in CANR’s operations research program, explained that the main goal of her work is to “enhance waste collection practices in the city of Newark in terms of minimizing fleet size, total transportation and operational cost, and avoiding time imbalance in between different routes.”

The study has two main parts. First, Jain looked at assigning different capacity trucks to various routes to help cut down on the number of trips taken by each truck. The city has trucks of varying capacity and Jain saw that specific types of trucks worked better on certain routes.

Jain found that a smaller model of truck was making two trips to pick up the same amount of waste that could be handled by a larger truck in one trip. She said she would like to cut the number of trips to save on fuel, operational costs and overtime pay.

Because there is less trash to pick up in the winter, Jain said she believes the city can collect all the trash successfully with four trucks rather than the five they currently use.

By decreasing the number of trips taken by each truck on their routes, Jain’s research showed a 19 percent reduction in yearly transportation and drivers’ labor costs.

The second part of the study concerned route optimization to save on fuel and overtime costs.

To determine the optimal route depending on the average waste to be collected, Jain used Network Analyst, an ArcGIS extension for problems such as shortest route, closest facility, location allocation and vehicle routing.

Jain said of the city’s current routing plan, “They have a good scheme, but still there are some trucks that have to do multiple trips because there are uncovered remaining houses. I’m trying to make routes, different routes, so that they have very optimal collection schemes and they don’t have to go back.”

Using optimal route solutions for the city, the ArcGIS computed using traffic directions, turn restrictions, average speeds for local roads and highways and average time for serving each bin. It included geocoding of the city’s customers on GIS maps, which can be helpful in the future if more customers need to be added. City historical data was used to calculate average drop off time at the transfer station, the area where the trucks transfer their waste. Field observations were also conducted to assess the average turn times and service time for bins.

When these optimized routes were compared to the current ones, the results showed that distance would be decreased between 4-15 percent on each route, with an average of a 9 percent reduction in mileage, leading to an estimated decrease of fuel costs by $1,500 and maintenance costs of $7,000 per year per route.

Cost is not the only benefit from Jain’s research, however, as she says another plus that comes from route optimization will be public safety.

Jain said she is “trying to optimize their routes so they do fewer U-turns, which is critical in terms of safety. They are huge trucks and when they back up, if they make a three-point turn, it is a main concern especially in terms of safety. They don’t want the trucks to make many U-turns or three-point turns.”

With fewer trucks running more efficient routes, there will be an environmental benefit to the research as well, as fewer trucks driving fewer miles will help Newark reduce its carbon footprint.

The study originated in a class taught by Kent Messer, assistant professor of food and resource economics and assistant professor of economics, and Messer says Jain was “just a wonderful example of someone going above and beyond and demonstrating her passion and knowledge. She obviously did a great job.”

Messer also said that the city of Newark was very helpful to Jain throughout her research. “They are a great team, and I give them kudos for doing it because they have to get a lot of data to run these things,” he said. “They’re very data intensive to get good meaningful results. So I just think that it’s a beautiful relationship between the University of Delaware and a student and the city.

“I think her analysis was great, and the thing that I like about it is that I think they’re going to do it. From what I can tell, they’re going to go try it out, run some of these routes, get feedback and see whether it’s actually going to get put on the ground. And that’s so much better than a study by itself.”

Along with Messer, Jain credited Rich Lapointe, the director of public works for the city; Patrick Bartling, public works superintendent for providing a lot of support, information and data; and Benjamin Mearns, information resources consultant with the University’s IT-Client Support and Services, for helping her with ArcGIS.

Jain will continue her study into next semester, adding things such as more detailed traffic data and recycling into her analysis.

Article by Adam Thomas
Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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FREC Masters Students Placed in PhD Programs across the US

August 17, 2010 under CANR News

The Department of Food and Resource Economics at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is having an outstanding year, with six masters’ students going into funded Ph.D. programs across the country in the fall.

 Titus Awokuse, associate professor of food and resource economics, said the FREC graduate program prepares students to contribute to critical social problems in education, natural resources and the environment, data analysis and the economy.

 “Our students do very well in the job market with a master’s degree, but those who desire more study are very competitive,” Awokuse said. “This year was an exceptional year with six students funded for advanced study. We are proud of that.”

 Tom Ilvento, chairman of the FREC department, said the master’s program includes rigorous courses in economic theory, operations research and statistics.

 “Our graduate education emphasizes a sound theoretical base coupled with applied opportunities to develop and practice professional skills in analysis, writing and presentation of ideas,” Ilvento said. “Students go on to complete a thesis or work in a company as an intern, but we want them to have a good foundation in theory so they can compete in advanced graduate study.”

Jubo Yan, who graduated from the FREC program this summer, said he was drawn to the department’s research when choosing a master’s program. Yan will be pursuing his Ph.D. in Applied Economics and Management at Cornell.

“I went to several meetings to present my papers and to meet other researchers across the country,” Yan said. “This might not be common for a lot of masters’ programs.”

Guang Xiao, who graduated from the program in May, is currently a Ph.D. student in Operations Management at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He said the FREC program taught him valuable research techniques, as well as gaining experience and improving his communication skills through presentations and written reports.

“The operations research program at UD has a practical focus, which may help me to get a better understanding about the applications of OR in the real world,” Xiao said. “The OR program in UD made me well prepared for future Ph.D. work.”

Kathryn Onken, who will graduate in the fall, is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech. After completing her bachelor’s degree in the FREC department, Onken said she jumped at the chance to earn her master’s degree while conducting research with UD faculty.

“My master’s work provided me with a solid foundation from which to further build upon—not just course work, but also the opportunity to assist with research projects and publications,” Onken said. “I was never short on good advice; the faculty in the department genuinely want to see their students succeed.”

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