About seventy mathematicians will be unleashed this week on mathematical issues from the business world. The Study Group Mathematics with Industry (SWI) will take place this year at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg, Netherlands. It is the first time that an institute of higher education is organizing the event.
Last Monday, six companies presented their challenges and this week the participants are looking for creative solutions, which will be presented tomorrow. The concept originated in England and is now used worldwide. The results will be published for a wide audience on the SWI website.
The issues vary widely. For example, the mail, parcel and e-commerce company PostNL is trying to optimize its mail sorting process. Sorting centers in the south of the country have difficulties coping with the demand, so parcels are sent manually to the north. The company is looking for an algorithm to streamline that. Engineering firm Sweco wants to reduce waiting time at traffic lights. “Everyone sometimes wonders at traffic lights: Why am I waiting now?” says product manager Sandra Kamphuis. “Minimizing delays not only leads to less frustration, but also reduced emissions.”
In addition, the Dutch tennis association is trying to improve the ratings of tennis players, the international industrial group VDL is looking for a solution for undesirable drops of water in the production process, the logistics company Vanderlande is trying to improve efficiency in its distribution centers and the orthopedic measurement analyst ShoQR is looking for a model for predicting damage to joints.
This is the first time that the SWI is being held at a university of applied sciences; previously this was a matter solely for academic universities. Nevertheless, the majority of the participants are still connected to traditional academic national and international universities, but according to Fontys board member Joep Houterman, the concept fits perfectly with Fontys’ ambition. “Everything here is about applying knowledge,” he emphasizes during the opening on Monday.
The value of mathematics
Houterman himself has an affinity to mathematics. “My math professor once said, someday someone will come to you with a complex problem, and you’ll be able to solve it.” Years later, his mathematical knowledge indeed came in handy in a development project in Tanzania. “That’s where I discovered the value of mathematics. It is relevant to all kinds of industries. A Dutch study of the economic value of mathematics and statistics shows that many jobs and sectors depend on the insights of people like you.”
Presentation of the topics
Fetsje Bijma joined the study group herself four years ago, but is now at PostNL as a project leader. “The nice thing about this week is that you don’t know exactly who is going to work on your problem. There are people from different walks of life, so you get various insights. We can undoubtedly gain inspiration from that.”
According to Tom Peeters, who is participating on behalf of Vanderlande, it is also a great opportunity to spot talent. “For us it’s a win-win situation: the participants get to know our challenges and we get to know the participants.”
A welcome challenge
Roel Lambers, a PhD student at the Technical University in Eindhoven, is one of the participants in the program. He sees it as a welcome challenge. “You can always make something with a thousand rules and exceptions, but what you really want to do is create something elegant.” Will you be able to come up with a solution? “You can at least come up with recommendations,” answers Lambers. “And supposing it really does work out, then you have also established a relationship with the company.”