How to achieve fair and fast distribution of protective personal equipment, which is in short supply during the coronavirus crisis? #WeKnowHow

Dr. Roland Fischer, managing director of the Fraunhofer Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services at Fraunhofer IIS, and Markus Weissenbäck, project manager for the FACE project, describe how a fast and equitable distribution of medical protective goods works based on mathematical methods.

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“Basically, everything was in short supply,” says Markus Weissenbäck, summing up the situation in the Nuremberg region when the coronavirus pandemic hit. He is the mathematician leading the FACE (Fair and Fast Allocation of Scarce Protection Equipment) project in the Fraunhofer Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services at Fraunhofer IIS. The experts have developed a user-friendly tool that makes the distribution of scarce protective equipment faster, fairer and more transparent. Although when naming the project Weissenbäck’s first thought was of faces requiring masks, in fact FACE also deals with disinfectants, gloves or other protective equipment such as disposable gowns or visors.

Who gets scarce goods first in a pandemic?

Also helping on the front lines in the Nuremberg region in times of COVID-19 is Fraunhofer researcher and managing director of Fraunhofer IIS’s Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services Dr. Roland Fischer, who serves as commander of the local fire department.  To begin with, he and other local volunteers on site worked with manually created tables to coordinate the distribution. However, it wasn’t long before he initiated FACE, since it soon became clear that this slow and laborious process needed to be optimized. Often, decisions had to be made as fairly as possible when it came to distributing one pallet of protective equipment to hospitals, nursing homes, schools or doctors when, in fact, ten are needed. Using Fraunhofer’s FACE web application, they produced a mathematical solution set based on integer optimization, a mathematical tool that can be used to solve logistical problems. Using this approach, a hospital that is first in line for supplies of critical goods doesn’t receive everything immediately, but rather in a planned, staggered manner according to a predefined logic. 

All Germany’s federal states can benefit from FACE

It is possible to share the FACE web application with any of the other 90 district administrative authorities in Bavaria. However, FACE can also be applied in all other federal states with their specific regulations in order to distribute scarce resources efficiently and fairly.

 

Article by Dr. Katja Engel

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