Researching AUM - Yi Wang takes math to the business world

AUM mathematics professor Yi Wang with a schematic illustrating the gantry crane schedules in a railway container terminal. 

As one of the earliest areas of science practiced by ancient humans, mathematics has always found numerous practical applications. Auburn University at Montgomery math professor Yi Wang applies mathematical solutions to some common problems of commerce.

“My current research focuses on production planning and operations management,” said Wang. “Examples include optimizing the gantry crane schedules in a railway container terminal and optimizing facility locations such as determining the locations of Walmart stores in a city.”

He’s especially interested in supply chain management problems.

“The goal is to design an intelligent algorithm (a series of steps to solve a problem) in a city such as Montgomery based on the past and present selling data to predict demand in order to determine the inventory needs of stores from a distribution center,” he explained.

Dr. Wang uses the hypothetical delivery of shoes to illustrate.

“Suppose a shoe distribution center supplies various styles of shoes to different shoe stores in a city. Store A may quickly sell a particular style of shoes, for example style X, while store B may sell style X shoes more slowly. The distribution center would like to know as soon as possible the restocking need of style X shoes in store A while also considering transferring style X shoes from store B to another store which needs that style.”

He says it’s a complicated project which not only relies on mathematical calculations.

“It also needs big data computer technology,” he explained. “The algorithm, if successful, will surely see large applications in today's modern business.”

With Ph.D. degrees in both mathematics and engineering, Wang says he has always been interested in research that applied mathematics to the engineering field. He also emphasizes the value of working with research collaborators.

“Collaboration can often stimulate new ideas,” he said. “I have been able to invite my collaborators to AUM multiple times to discuss their research.”

And he credits a special person for fostering his early interest in the mathematics, highlighting the importance of family members in a child’s education.

“My grandma helped me a lot in my early development of mathematics skills when I was in elementary school,” he recalled. “I remember she always trained me to do extracurricular mathematics problems and taught me how to solve them. That training laid a solid foundation for me to develop my analytical reasoning skills.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery (aum.edu) and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 700 newspapers and magazines (getnickt.com).