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Dr. Tomas Ambra: A Decision Support System for Synchromodal Transport and the Physical Internet

PhD Tomas Ambra

Freight transportation forms an imperative pillar of our society and economy.
However, with projected growth of international trade and cargo demand,
the current infrastructural capacities are put under pressure, resulting in
congestion problems, safety issues, environmental concerns and decreasing
reliability of services. The PhD addresses the Physical Internet and Synchromodal
transport concepts which present opportunities to improve the current
unsustainable freight transportation, by increasing ll rates and inducing a
positive modal shift from roads to rails and inland waterways.


On one hand, Synchromodal transport concerns operational aspects
such as real-time re-routing of loading units over the network to cope with
disturbances and/or customer requirements. On the other hand, the Physical
Internet is to replicate the digital internet by mimicking digital 
flows in the physical world; the same way messages are delivered via the internet, the
goods could be delivered via the Physical Internet. The first contribution
of the PhD thesis is conceptual, where the main objective is to assess and
explore the correlations between these two concepts in order to understand
how they can reinforce each other.


The logic of the two concepts is assessed by a dynamic computational
model (SYMBIT) which computes movements of agents in geographically
referenced space. The SYMBIT model captures stochastic parallel processes
for each mode, and simulates decentralized delivery performances of orders
and assets. The methodological contribution rests on the combination of
agent-based modelling, discrete-event modeling and Geographic Information
Services (GIS). SYMBIT's architecture and its abilities are applied to two
case studies.The case studies form the empirical/experimental contributions. The
first case is a synchromodal application with an interregional European focus.
The routing of individual orders and their responsiveness to disruptions are
studied on a sample which concerns imports of retail goods by unimodal truck
(road-only) transport from France to Belgium. The case tests synchromodal
resilience to perturbations where the dynamic re-routing and modal switching
is compared to static intermodal solutions. The objective is to provide a
deeper understanding of modal shift potential in recovery settings. The
objective of the second case is to investigate the impact of inserting extra
service points into existing dedicated freight flows of a service driven company
in Brussels. The model simulates different transparency levels, routing to
new pick-up locations, and evaluates the impact in terms of altered lead-times,
covered distances and ll rates.


The SYMBIT model and its simulations rely on network openness and
benevolence of other carriers to flexibly change and/or bundle goods in a
virtual risk-free environment. The final practical contribution refers to
the exploration of how to connect the risk-free virtual environment and
its functionalities to the physical system, so that users can assess different
what-if scenarios when needed. In this regard, the concept of digital twinning
(or Digital Twin) is discussed in relation to modelling, new applications,
sensor technologies as well as stakeholder involvement and their role(s) in
digital freight networks.