Tackling problems

Coalition helps goods move efficiently

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Thomas Polmateer says CCALS has “made a big difference for
our students” at UVA. Photo by Caroline Martin

The mission of the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science is to prepare students to solve global challenges. That makes it a good fit for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems (CCALS), a coalition aimed at addressing logistical problems faced by companies and government agencies.

“We’re excited about what we have been able to do here at U.Va. with CCALS,” says Thomas Polmateer, research program director in the department of engineering systems and environment. “It’s made a big difference for our undergraduate and graduate students.”

Faculty and students benefit by exposure to “real-world problems and industry partners,” he adds. “It also improves student soft skills.” 
CCALS’ roots go back to 2010 when the Virginia Logistical Research Center was formed. “The center was basically a strategic plan with no articles of incorporation,” says Mark Manasco, president and executive director of CCALS. “We formally stood the organization up with bylaws and membership and called it CCALS.”

The public-private partnership utilizes the research expertise of U.Va., Virginia Commonwealth University, Longwood University, Virginia State University and Old Dominion University to tackle logistical issues. Because of its highway, rail and port assets, Virginia has been identified by consultants as one of the most promising logistics hubs on the East Coast.

Graduate students at U.Va. have worked with the Port of Virginia, the Center for Innovative Technology and the Virginia Department of Transportation on a variety of issues, such as technology innovations in container port operations.

“We are also in discussions to address advanced logistics challenges with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia Department of Corrections,” Polmateer says.  “Health-care material and services is our next opportunity to be value-added by reducing costs through operational efficiencies, such as improving the integration and visibility of clinical and financial data.”

CCALS has broadened students’ experiences at VSU, university officials say. The organization gives undergraduates the opportunity “to meet and network with graduate programs,” says Lessie Oliver-Clark, information logistics technology instructor at the university.  “It exposes them to companies that would hire people with their skills.”

VSU students have worked on projects ranging from drone technology and autonomous vehicles to blockchain technology and the internet of things. “CCALS is a real collaborative environment for solving logistic challenges. It exposes our students to future logistic technology through research works and internships,” says Dawit Haile, dean of VSU’s College of Engineering and Technology. 

The Port of Virginia became involved with CCALS about four years ago.

“They have taken our data and broken it down for efficiency. They’ve helped with capacity expansion and improvements through modeling and simulation,” says Joe Ruddy, the port’s chief innovation officer. “We are on a tremendous expansion project of over $700 million. It’s nice to have new equipment and great systems, but in order to maximize our benefit we have to make sure our systems are optimized.”

Students have worked, for example, on projects involving ship arrivals and departures and the movement of trucks in and out of the port’s gates.

“Automation is not automatic. You are continuously looking to improve your situation,” Ruddy says. “We look beyond our gates to the railroads and the Port of Richmond. We are fortunate to have these assets and to optimize them. Groups like CCALS play a role in that. CCALS brings us closer to our customers.”

Funding, whether from private or government entities, continues to be a challenge for CCALS. “In order for us to be more successful we are going to have to figure out how to leverage more state support,” says Manasco. “We will need more funding. That is the realization. We have operated this as a startup but now are ready to move forward.”

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