An example of the first of these is the packing of identical cardboard cases
in layers on a wooden pallet for transportation and storage. The second problem
is that encountered when filling a lorry / trailer / shipping container with a
variety of cargo.

Our **PALLETMANAGER**
software tackles problems in the first of these two areas, whilst our **CARGOMANAGER**
software addresses problems of the second type.

In most practical situations the identical case problem requires layers of
product to be built up. For this reason it can be simplified to that of packing
identical smaller rectangles within a larger containing rectangle. This problem
may appear very simple to solve, however it can be **very** difficult to
ensure that the solution is the best possible (optimal). Mathematically this
problem may be what is termed as NP complete. Even today researchers are carrying out PhD studies on
just this problem. For some sets of small and large rectangles it may be
possible to produce optimal solutions in a few milliseconds, however by changing
(say) the size of the smaller rectangles by a few millimeters the problem may
require many hours of computing time.

Given the above comments it is not surprising to learn that the solution to
problems involving mixed cargo is even more complex.

**The Role of Computer Software.**

At the simplest level the role of products such as
** PALLETMANAGER** is to
calculate how to maximise the number of identical cases packed within the
length, width and height of the pallet space or container. This alone can be
very valuable - fitting (say) 5% more product into the available space will save
5% of transportation and storage costs!!

A further role might be to examine the influence of alternate type of case /
shrink wrap. New European recycling regulations make this an area of increasing
concern.

If it is possible to consider re-designing the case major savings may be
possible. Perhaps a case of 24 'cans of baked beans' is currently packed as 3
layers of 8 cans. What if 2 layers of 12 cans were used - the 12 cans on each
layer might be arranged in various arrangements (e.g. 6*2; 3*4). Each case
design will provide different packaging costs and may be better or worse (in
terms of number of cans fitted) when
packed on the pallet or into the container.

What if the product size itself can be changed? Here the software needs to
help the user by investigating product design changes within limits set by the
user. This may require investigating thousands of different designs (perhaps
just a few mm. different in size) within a few
seconds. For each of these designs the culmination is the calculation of how
many cases of the calculated size fit within the loading space - as described
above a very complex task.

Problems such as those described above are just a few of those encountered in
the general area of **Cutting and Packing**. The solution techniques used are
often highly complex and fall into the subject areas of operational research and
mathematics. Those wishing to research the area further may find the **SICUP
web pages** of interest.

The problems described above, in which
mathematical solution methods are used in solving business problems, fall into
the area know as Operational Research (OR). Some further examples of how OR
techniques are applied in business can be found on the website of the **British
OR Society**.