Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Cedar uses AI to boost Bourque Logistics rail offerings

Steve Rogerson
August 21, 2019
Seattle-based artificial intelligence company Cedar AI is helping North American industrial logistics software firm Bourque Logistics provide optimised switching to rail shippers and storage yards.
Cedar's OptiSwitch AI-based algorithms have been developed for railroads to optimise railyard switching and train assembly. Working collaboratively, Bourque and Cedar have completed integration of their systems, so they can demonstrate this technology for non-railroad applications, namely manufacturers and shippers with a large on-site rail inventory and railcar storage providers.
By integrating railcar inventory from Texas-based Bourque's YardMaster system with OptiSwitch algorithms, an optimised cutting list for blocked train assembly and other railyard movements is created within seconds. The cutting list is then used in the YardMaster switch generation process with instructions transmitted to YardMaster Mobile crew tablets provided by Bourque's partner, Industrial Networks. Or crews can print them for field use.
Using the OptiSwitch and YardMaster collaborative technology, rail shippers and storage operators stand to benefit from shorter switch-planning efforts, fewer moves, fuel savings, and lower locomotive and track maintenance. Also, digitisation of such switching expertise ensures consistency of railyard operations if such know-how is lost through switch crew retirements or attrition.
Cedar AI is a dynamic company of data scientists and railroad software experts. Over the past two years, it has worked with Class I and shortline railroads to develop the OptiSwitch planning and operations platform. The goal is to improve railroad operations and throughput.
Bourque and Cedar realised a modified version of OptiSwitch, integrated with YardMaster, could also serve shippers with complex load scheduling needs, large railcar inventories and private railcar storage facilities. Such facilities often contain several thousand railcars and may assemble and ship blocked trains of 20 to 100 railcars per day.
"The YardMaster system maintains accurate, real-time information on yard inventory, which allows our artificial-intelligence platform to provide timely switching plans that reflect changing yard conditions," said Mario Ponticello, co-CEO and CFO of Cedar AI. "We're thrilled to be partnering with the team at Bourque Logistics on this project. We believe that our integrated solution will add value from day one and, through machine learning, dynamically adapt to shippers' needs to provide better and more efficient plans over time."
YardMaster is used at more than 230 rail shipping facilities in North America for railcar inventory, switching, inspection, loading and unloading. A Spanish version of YardMaster has been implemented by a terminal operator in Mexico with several more terminal deployments in progress.
"Our recent pilot with Cedar AI has proven their high-value switching function offers significant efficiencies to our shipper and storage clients," said Steve Bourque, president of Bourque Logistics. "We want our clients to have the best in class technology. We believe there is additional opportunity for optimised order-to-railcar assignment and multi-day train scheduling."
Cedar AI draws on rail-industry experience and talent from technology firms such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft to take on challenging problems in the freight rail industry. The business leverages proprietary artificial-intelligence and machine-learning algorithms to provide railroads and rail shippers with tools to increase efficiency and throughput, and improve safety.
OptiSwitch is a real-time operations and planning tool for flat-yard switching. It evaluates hundreds of millions of possible scenarios before presenting crews with optimised, step-by-step classification plans, driving reductions in dwell, capacity constraints and accidents in the yard. Cedar AI delivers this as a SaaS-based platform that integrates seamlessly with a railroad or rail shippers' inventory management system.
Used by over 120 rail shippers in North America, Bourque Logistics provides rail operations software for industrial shippers. Its automated rail logistics system includes Railtrac, YardMaster, RateServer and other tools that address facets of rail shippers' needs and integrate seamlessly with their ERP systems. Its Shipper BI tool provides managers with real-time intelligence and trending to manage complex distribution and logistics.
The tools are redundant, cloud-based systems for rail and motor carrier shipment operations for loading and shipping, bill of lading submission, tracking and trace, freight costing and payment, fleet accounting, supply chain management, and customised reporting. Bourque's EDI data services connect shippers with their suppliers, customers and carriers. The company also provides professional services and support for rail fleet expediting and railcar maintenance management.