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Exploring quantum computing use cases for logistics

Logistics is more complex than ever. Quantum computing is built for complexity.

Supply chain and logistics professionals have been stretched thin over the past several years. An increasing amount of uncertainty—from labor shortages, to extreme weather, to pandemic-fueled changes in supply and demand—has increased logistics complexity exponentially.

The solution to this complexity requires a broader perspective. Silo-based, function-based, or even enterprise-wide optimizations no longer provide the cure for supply chain and logistics challenges. Instead, businesses need supply chain optimizations that account for the full complexity of the entire ecosystem. They need quantum logistics.

Quantum computing could provide the solution for persistent supply chain and logistics problems.

But accounting for the complexity of an ecosystem so vast requires a level of real-time coordination among partners, governments, and shippers that current optimization solutions—using classical computing—cannot fully provide.

The maturation and development of quantum computing, however, could change this equation significantly. If individual transportation providers, regulators, and customers can better share insights and collaborate to optimize operational decisions, quantum computers could deliver seamless service and provide better overall outcomes for the entire supply chain—and for humanity.

Three use cases come to the fore:

1. Quantum algorithms for last mile delivery? Game-changing potential.

By supporting global routing optimization and more frequent re-optimization, quantum computers could help significantly reduce door-to-door freight transportation costs and boost customer satisfaction. IBM worked with a commercial vehicle manufacturer to show how a mix of classical and quantum computing could optimize delivery to 1,200 locations in New York City. Using a route-based approach, the team factored in the need for 30-minute delivery time windows, while recognizing truck capacity constraints— all while reducing the total cost of delivery.

2. Quantum-enabled disruption management can put uncertainty on notice.

Classical systems are mainly rule-based, consisting of manual and ad hoc processes. Siloed and sequential, they provide limited insight for supporting flawless recovery decisions.

Quantum computing could support better decision-making by simulating more disruption scenarios and quantifying their impact on various parts of the network. Quantum computers performing risk and impact analysis may be able to reduce the number of “what if” simulation scenarios necessary, helping improve recovery times, lower costs, and lessen operational and customer service impacts. In addition, quantum machine learning may enable more precise classification and prediction of disruption events.

3. Quantum computing could help sustainable maritime routing make a quantum leap.

With contingencies that include large fleets and uncertainties such as weather and demand fluctuations, many optimization challenges in shipping operations can’t be precisely solved exactly using classical computers.

ExxonMobil is exploring how blending classical and quantum computing techniques might solve big, complex, pressing global challenges as it ships liquefied natural gas (LNG). Teams at IBM Research and ExxonMobil Corporate Strategy Research have collaborated to model maritime inventory routing on quantum devices, analyzing the strengths and trade-offs of different strategies for vehicle and inventory routing, and laying the foundation for constructing practical solutions for their operations.

Planning for tomorrow’s logistics, today

Organizations in the transportation and logistics arena could be among those with the most to gain from quantum computing’s groundbreaking capabilities. An organization’s path from initial investigation of quantum computing to actual readiness for implementation can span a few years.

A wait-and-see approach could mean the difference between being disrupted and being the disruptor. That’s why it’s important to begin building quantum readiness sooner rather than later.

To learn what steps to take now, download our report.


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Meet the authors

Dr. Imed Othmani

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, Industry Partner, Quantum Industry & Technical Services Systems, IBM Quantum


Dr. Mariana LaDue

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, Industry Quantum Consultant, Travel and Transportation, IBM Quantum


Dr. Martin Mevissen

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, Senior Research Manager, AI & Quantum, IBM Quantum

Originally published 21 August 2022