Exploiting Random Lead Times for Significant Inventory Cost Savings

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We study the classical single-item inventory system in which unsatisfied demands are backlogged. Replenishment lead times are random, independent identically distributed, causing orders to cross in time. We develop a new inventory policy to exploit implications of lead time randomness and order crossover, and evaluate its performance by asymptotic analysis and simulations. Our policy does not follow the basic principle of constant base stock (CBS) policy, or more generally, (s,S) and (R, q) policies, which is to keep the inventory position within a fixed range. Instead, it uses the current inventory level (= inventory-on-hand minus backlog) to set a dynamic target for inventory in-transit, and place orders to follow this target. Our policy includes CBS policy as a special case, under a particular choice of a policy parameter. We show that our policy can significantly reduce the average inventory cost compared with CBS policy. Specifically, we prove that if the lead time is exponentially distributed, then under our policy, with properly chosen policy parameters, the expected (absolute) inventory level scales as o( r √ ), as the demand rate r→∞. In comparison, it is known to scale as Θ( r √ ) under CBS policy. In particular, this means that, as r→∞, the average inventory cost under our policy vanishes in comparison with that under CBS policy. Furthermore, our simulations show that the advantage of our policy remains to be substantial under nonexponential lead time distributions, and may even be greater than under exponential distribution. We also use simulations to compare the average cost under our policy with that achieved under an optimal policy for some cases where computing the optimal cost is tractable. The results show that our policy removes a majority of excess costs of CBS policy over the minimum cost, leading to much smaller optimality gaps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2496-2516
Number of pages21
JournalOperations Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • asymptotic analysis
  • base stock policies
  • inventory management
  • random lead times

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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