About DISpATch

Our story

Synchromodal transport employs multiple transport modes in a flexible and dynamic way in order to induce a modal shift towards more environmentally friendly transport modes without compromising on responsiveness and quality of service. It enables optimal integration of different transport modes and infrastructure by the use of real-time (internet of things) data to improve capacity usage, flow of transport means and enhance their use cost-effectively. With this research project we combine forces with three universities (VUB, KU Leuven and UHasselt) and VIL that have expertise in different aspects of synchromodal transport. The objective is to develop a digital twin to further enhance the synchromodal concept and make synchromodal transport a reality in Flanders to boost the competitiveness and sustainability of its logistics sector.

Synchromodal transport involves a shift from static ‘predict & prepare’ transport decisions to dynamic and flexible ‘sense & respond’ solutions where the selection of transport modes is based on real-time positions and availabilities of assets (barges, trains, trucks, terminals). However, real- time mode selection requires involvement of extra parties in the process to solve transparency issues as to who has the cargo and where is it located. The planning thus has to be synchronized in a sophisticated manner and with all necessary parties involved.

To date the synchromodal concept remains rather theoretical and it is not well measurable due to the lack of an appropriate platform to provide reliable assessments in a highly dynamic and real- time environment. Such a platform would be able to mimic the current real system, but also simulate how it could evolve. The objective of this project is to develop such a platform in order to test dynamic planning algorithms and communication technologies which are also the main enablers for implementing synchromodal transport. The platform will operate like a digital twin that mimics the physical reality on a digital platform. It will address questions such as how much to transport, when and by using which transport mode? How can we integrate replenishment decisions and inventory cost calculation within the transport planning process? How can collaboration between shippers and/or logistics service providers in an open logistics network enhance the sustainability and cost-efficiency of supply chains?

The project focuses on organizational and technical enablers for seamless synchromodal transport services in Flanders. Given the real-time dynamics and flexible nature of synchromodal transport, different transport modalities and actors need to work together and adapt according to unexpected events and contextual information that affect transport processes. These events and contextual information are related to negative as well as positive perturbations that shape freight movement and transport mode selection, such as newly incoming orders, transport delays, cancellations, collaborative bundling opportunities, accidents, water levels, strikes and many more. Crucial elements in this regard are situational awareness of the current system state and projections of how the system will evolve once different actors take different actions. We will consider individual company objectives at micro level and network objectives at macro level.

Our platform will be represented by a digital twin in order to provide a testbed for synchromodal opportunities within a risk-free environment. A digital twin is a virtual environment that mirrors the real physical system (a physical twin) and its processes by updating its virtual real-time status from various sources of information regarding weather forecasts, congestion levels, positions of assets (barges, trains, trucks) and their ongoing working conditions. By means of the digital twin, effects of sensor technology and information exchange can be studied in combination with physical flows. Such a risk free environment allows for analysis and evaluation of triggering events (new orders, disruptions, delays…) which induce physical movements, and vice-versa, physical movements may trigger information flows once certain assets arrive at a specific location or enter a geo-fence.

A focal point of the digital twin is aimed at detecting and measuring emergent behavior of individual business processes (at the point of action) on an aggregated macro level where more unique individual processes converge and form the overall system pattern. The digital twin will offer emergence control methods that will take into account local (cost, lead-times) and global (emissions/externalities) objectives at tactical and operational levels. The decisions will be influenced by the digital twins design that will incorporate analytical and computational modelling techniques in order to create a robust virtual environment that may be later on connected to real- time data fetching tools so that LSPs and shippers can query their assets in real-time, run multiple scenarios in a simulated environment, and take decisions in the real physical system; the digital twin will then adapt to the newly changed state.

The innovative digital twin environment will combine features of Geographic Information Systems, agent-based and discrete event models as well as smart algorithms that will ensure freight flows are combined and synchronized efficiently, resulting in higher vehicle fill rates, a shift towards more environmentally friendly transport modes, less trucks on the road and a significant decarbonization of freight transport. Having a great level of detail provided by the digital twin, we can capture complex interrelations since individual business process will not be aggregated or omitted.

The model calibration, validation and consequent practical implications will be assessed in three case studies in close cooperation with VIL and its members. The case studies will touch upon maritime, continental and retail supply chains. These diverse case studies will facilitate broadening of the current synchronization of freight movements and network planning of LSPs, by also accounting for the supply chain dimension such as smart replenishment and inventory management in order to create a more holistic door-to-door applications for shippers.

Who ↓


Dr. Tomas Ambra

Tomas is the DISpATch coordinator. He is a Senior Researcher at VUB-MOBI in Brussels and a visiting Professor at Hasselt University. He also acts as the Vice-chair for Corridors, Hubs and Synchromodality at ETP-ALICE. His skills are linked to simulating real-time dynamics of freight transport processes in geo-referenced environments.

Shiyi wang

Shiyi is a doctoral candidate, supervised by Prof. Dr. Cathy Macharis and Dr. Tomas Ambra. In 2017, She obtained her MSc degree in Transport and Geoinformation Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. Before that, she obtained her BSc degree in Logistics Engineering at Beijing Jiaotong University in China. Shiyi works on the Maritime-based Synchromodal transport case. 

Prof. dr. Cathy Macharis

Cathy is head of the research group MOBI (Mobility, Logistics and Automotive Technology). She is a Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel where she teaches courses in supply chain management and sustainable mobility and logistics. She is specialised in the assessment of policy measures and innovative concepts in the field of sustainable logistics and urban mobility

Kris Neyens

Kris Neyens is manager internationalisation at VIL, Flanders’ spearhead cluster for logistics. In this capacity he represents VIL in the Executive Group of ETP-ALICE where he also acts as Vice-Chair in the working group “hubs, corridors and synchromodality”. He is involved in various future oriented projects regarding supply chain organisation, concepts and alternative modes of transport and routing.

Hannah Yee

Hannah is a business engineer graduated from KU Leuven. She majored in production and logistics, and wrote her master's thesis on Synchromodal Transport. She is now a doctoral candidate at KU Leuven at the Research Centre for Operations Management under the supervision of Prof. dr. Robert Boute. Whitin DISpATch she works on retail-based Synchromodal Transport. 

Prof. dr. Robert Boute

Robert is a professor of operations management at Vlerick Business School and KU Leuven, Belgium. His research focuses on inventory control and supply chain management.

Thibault Delbart

Thibault is currently a doctoral researcher at Hasselt University under the supervision of Prof. dr. An Caris and Prof. dr. Kris Braekers. He obtained an English master's degree in business engineering at KU Leuven with a major in production and logistics. The topic of his master thesis was on horizontal collaboration between logistics providers. During his bachelor's he studied at the KU Leuven campus in Brussels. Within the DISpATch project he works on the continental synchromodal transport case. 

Prof. dr. An Caris

An is Associate Professor of Operations Management and Logistics at Hasselt University. Her research interests lie in modelling intermodal transport, warehouse optimization, data-driven logistics, and healthcare logistics. From a technical viewpoint, she is also involved in the statistical analysis of algorithms for efficient parameter setting of metaheuristic algorithms.

Prof. dr. Kris Braekers

Kris is assistant professor at the research group Logistics of Hasselt University (Faculty of Business Economics). He teaches several courses in operations management, supply chain management and logistics. His research focuses on developing optimization techniques for solving complex combinatorial optimization problems in transport and logistics. 

Dr. Yves Molenbruch

Yves is a postdoctoral researcher in the research group Logistics at Hasselt University. He teaches courses in operations research and supply chain management. His research focuses on developing optimization techniques for real-life routing problems in passenger and freight transport, involving operational synchronizations of different transport modes.