What is The Container Loading Problem?



This page is intended for those who may be interested in learning a little more about Container loading and associated problems.

The scientific literature typically uses the term the Pallet Loading Problem to refer to the solution of one of two problem types:

The packing of identical cases (or cylinders) onto a distribution pallet or within some confining box or container or
The packing of a mixed arrangement of (usually) boxes within a confining box or container.

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.

Both problem are 'mathematically' very challenging. Even today researchers are carrying out PhD studies on just these problems. In practice, not only do solutions need to try to maximise the utilisation of the space available but also meet all the practical constraints. Factors such as as product fragility, weight, loading / unloading constraints etc. must all be catered for.

The Role of Computer Software.

At the simplest level the role of products such as CARGOMANAGER is to calculate how to maximise the volume (or value) of cargo packed taking into account all the practical constraints which apply. A consignment might require a large number of containers or trailers to accommodate it all and one naturally wishes to minimise the number used.

In addition, if it is possible to identify the 'spare' space available in a container prior to loading additional (new) products might be added to the cargo list so as to maximise the utilisation of space.

At an earlier stage - when designing cases or constructing shipments, the ability to quickly determine the efficiency with which a particular consignment matches the selected container(s) can be very valuable.

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 well find the SICUP website of interest.

The use of mathematical techniques to solve business problems such as described above is typical of those tackled by those in Operational Research (OR). Other examples of OR in action can be found on the website of the British OR Society.