Michigan Engineering News

Logistics during COVID-19: Researcher creates an operations model cheat sheet

A University of Michigan engineering researcher has pulled together a cheat sheet.

Our campus, like the global community, is contending with COVID-19 and working to adapt to a new normal. Many are rapidly working on solutions. See all COVID-19 developments from University of Michigan Engineering.

Where to site COVID-19 testing facilities and how to stock them. How to triage patients and allocate hospital resources. The best ways to manage supply chains for food and other essentials. 

Solutions to these logistical puzzles posed by the COVID-19 crisis may lie in operations models used in the retail sector, says Siqian Shen, a researcher at the University of Michigan. She has written a report that pairs COVID-related problems with operations engineering research that may lead to solutions.

“We have a large body of research that has traditionally been used to site retail stores, to optimize inventory and production, to manage stock levels as demand for products varies by season,” said Shen, who is an associate professor of industrial operations and engineering and civil and environmental engineering. “The COVID-19 pandemic presents a very similar set of challenges, but the tools to meet those challenges haven’t always made it the people who need them. I’m doing what I can to change that.”

Shen hopes that making information more freely available will make it easier for decision makers to turn data into decisions in the face of the current crisis. The report includes information on these and other issues:

In the future, Shen plans to make open-source analytical software freely available online. For now, she suggests that decision makers who don’t already have access to analytical expertise turn to universities, as well as the authors of the resources in her online repository, for help.

Mining best practices

In addition to adapting models from other applications, Shen is tracking COVID-related success stories from around the globe, gleaned from the countries in Asia and Europe that were among the first to deal with the crisis. She believes that those successes can offer lessons for the United States and other second-and third-wave countries.

“One of the things that makes a global crisis so difficult is that every country is different,” she said. “Something that works in China may not work here in the United States. But taking a step back and analyzing what works elsewhere can help us design our own solutions more quickly.”

Some of the examples she cites include:

Shen’s trove of ideas is very much a work in progress. She invites industrial operations experts and others to share research and resources that they believe could be helpful to others in the fight against the disease and its consequences.

“I very much encourage people to contact me if they have something from their area of expertise that they believe could be relevant,” she said. “I’m glad to add it, to cite their research. My ultimate goal is to make this a very detailed document that pulls together the best resources and successes from across the globe.”

Read the full report: From Data to Actions, From Observations to Solutions A Summary of Operations Research and Industrial Engineering Tools for Fighting COVID-19

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