Mathematics improve distribution of perishable products

Altering distribution networks will diminish transportation, storage costs and loss of food, ensuring products will reach consumers in less time and have greater shelf life.

In order to design alternatives to avoid loss of perishable products, such as fresh foods, drugs, transfusion blood or all types of admission tickets, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Industrial Engineer and Applied Mathematic master’s candidate David Felipe Medina analyzed productive chains from the producer to the consumer. He discovered that the amount of links a product is subjected is one of its main obstacles.

“The basic distribution chain is comprised by suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers. All this turns into a network because it has several suppliers and distributors,” said Medina.

Therefore he poses three mathematical distribution models which maximize the process and make use of digraphs (distribution networks) with minimal logistical costs, hence reduced losses.

To start off he divided the supply chain and analyzed the distribution between two nodes, specifically from the supplier to the manufacturer and the distributor to the retailer.

The proposal consists of analyzing the consumers to which the products are distributed to and alter them for ones which demand shorter distance travel times. This will require companies to market with new interested parties and maintain a stable demand.

“The model will show who they should distribute to lower costs. It will also asses route changes because if they distribute to nearer locations it will be more economical because it will require less transportation and the product will have greater shelf time,” said Medina.

Being a perishable product, time is very relevant. The longer the distance it is more expensive to transport and freshness diminishes.

His model ensures diminishing losses meaning more amount of product, which could be reflected in price falls and therefore more accessible to consumers and produce social benefits.

Cundinamarca farmers benefitted

The “Shannon entropy” was also a part of the model. This is a concept which refers to the amount of uncertainty of information, in this particular case, on the time crops were harvested.

“Normally when fresh product is gathered, such as potatoes, oranges, strawberries or blackberries they are mixed by transporters at the collection centers, but they all come from different farms and each has different production time tables; this is why people in market squares encounter products which are not fresh,” said the researcher.

To avoid this and ensure that all products manage similar harvest times, every sector must be cognizant of how much time ago the product was harvested so transporters can combine those with similar times. Then consumers will be sure the product they are purchasing is fresh.

In the model approach they took into account parameters such as transportation, storage, losses, associated costs, demand, maximum usefulness time, rout times and expected efficiency levels.

Students of the Society, Economy and Productivity Research Group (SEPRO, for its Spanish acronym) participated in the research project which is part of the Agroindustrial Technological Corridor of Cundinamarca. Therefore they hope to test the models with farmers of the region and promote development and technological transference between producers, businessmen and researchers and consolidate a more competitive and innovative region.

Agencia de Noticias  Unal |

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