Exploring supply chain solutions with quantum computing

Originally published on Honeywell.com

The BMW Group and Entropica Labs are investigating real-world logistic benchmark problems with the help of Honeywell Quantum Solutions.

Introduction: Keeping goods and materials flowing is critical for any company. The BMW Group is looking to quantum computing to improve supply chains and maximize efficiency.

Few customers think about how materials, goods, and services move from suppliers to manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and then to their homes.

But for global companies managing the logistics and keeping supply chains flowing – and customers satisfied – it is critical.  Even small disruptions, or minor inefficiencies, cost time and money.  That’s why companies are continuously gathering and crunching data to improve efficiency in their vast supply chains. 

Quantum computers, such as Honeywell’s System Model H1, could help manage the ever-changing conditions and factors that affect supply chains. 

Entropica Labs, a Singapore-based quantum software startup, and the BMW Tech Office Singapore are teaming with Honeywell Quantum Solutions to examine supply chains and logistics for the global automobile manufacturer.

“The BMW Group is always exploring new technologies to further enhance our operations,” said Julius Marcea, Head of IT, Region Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa, BMW Group.  “We are excited to investigate the transformative potential of quantum computing on the automotive industry and are committed to extending the limits of engineering performance.”

SH1: Benchmarking performance

The BMW Group and Entropica Labs collaborated to develop and run a benchmark for near-term quantum optimization on our H1 hardware. 

Specifically, they used the Recursive Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm (R-QAOA) to tackle number partitioning, a classic combinatorial problem that is an entry point to many logistics and supply chain problems of industrial interest. The work leveraged three key features of the Honeywell H1 hardware: full qubit connectivity, high fidelity operations, and high angular resolution of the quantum gates. 

The results (see figure below) showed the performance of the H1 to be competitive with a simulator incorporating only shot noise resulting from the finite number of measurements. On the algorithmic side, for the small problem instances studied, the depth-1 R-QAOA has a performance that is comparable to the classical Karmarkar-Karp (KK) heuristic. Future work will explore whether higher-depth versions of R-QAOA are able to outperform the KK algorithm.

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Figure 1: Experimental data taken on the Honeywell System Model H1 demonstrating the performance of the R-QAOA vs. the classical KK heuristic, and the brute force answer. For both H1 (blue) and the simulator (red), 200 shots were taken.

Quantum computers work much differently than classical computers (the ones we use today for accessing the internet and creating spreadsheets), and thus algorithm development for quantum computers requires special skills.  It takes a special team with a blend of talents spanning between physics and mathematics to write quantum programs, which is why the team at the BMW Group teamed with the experts at Entropica Labs for this activity.

 "The results of this simple benchmark project are very informative, and will be helpful to Entropica as we continue to investigate real-world use cases for quantum optimization", said Ewan Munro, Entropica’s Chief Technology Officer and co-founder. "Number partitioning fits well with today's quantum computers, and with larger systems we will be able to explore more industrially relevant problems".

SH2: What’s next

For Entropica and the BMW Group, the next step is to explore whether more complex versions of R-QAOA can outperform the leading classical algorithms. 

 “We have enjoyed working with Honeywell and the BMW Group on this project,” Munro said. “Entropica has worked with both of Honeywell’s hardware offerings, and the increase in performance over the last year has been impressive. We look forward to continuing to leverage the unique features of the H1 system.”

Honeywell Quantum Solutions President Tony Uttley said the project is an important step toward scaling up quantum technologies. 

“We are quickly moving from benchmarking and double-checking data generated on quantum systems and algorithms to being able to tackle real-world, enterprise-level problems such as global supply chains,” he said.

We’re accelerating the future of quantum together