Machine learning-driven algorithms for the container relocation problem

Canrong Zhang, Hao Guan, Yifei Yuan, Weiwei Chen, Tao Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The container relocation problem is one of important issues in seaport terminals which could bring a significant saving on the operating cost even with a slight improvement due to the huge number of containers processed across the world each year. Given a specific layout and container retrieval priorities, the container relocation problem aims to find the optimal movement sequence to minimize the total number of container relocation operations. In this paper, we propose novel machine learning-driven algorithms, which integrate optimization methods and machine learning techniques, to solve the problem. More specifically, we propose a new upper bound method called MLUB that incorporates branch pruners. These pruners are derived from some machine learning techniques through using the optimal solution values of many small-scale instances. The tightened upper bounds generated by MLUB are used subsequently both in the exact branch-and-bound algorithm called IB&B and the hybrid beam search heuristic called MLBS. Moreover, we also provide a tighter lower bound for the problem by additionally considering the interaction between consecutive target containers. Based on the benchmark data published recently in the literature, extensive experiments are conducted to test the performance of the proposed algorithms. The experimental results demonstrate that the proposed algorithms outperform the state-of-the-art algorithms reported in the literature, and some managerial insights regarding the load intensity of the bay and some algorithm parameters such as the look-ahead depth and the beam width are drawn from the results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-131
Number of pages30
JournalTransportation Research Part B: Methodological
StatePublished - Sep 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation


  • Container relocation
  • beam search
  • branch-and-bound algorithm
  • machine learning-driven technique


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