Improving food systems in Iowa through industrial engineering

Improving food systems in Iowa requires a lot more than just a knowledge of agriculture.

Mittal

Anuj Mittal, Ph.D. candidate in industrial engineering (IE) at Iowa State University, has been part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study which will allow food hubs in Iowa to share supply chain best practices among each other and to add new food hub nodes to the already established shared transportation and warehousing network of food hubs in Iowa.

“My role in the project is to develop an inventory tracking system and standard operating procedures for facilitating shared logistics activities between food hubs in Iowa,” said Mittal. “As part of this project, I will also work to develop methods to fairly allocate shared logistics cost among the participating food hubs and farmers and study how adding new nodes will better help meet supply and demand of individual food hubs.”

Work on this project began in 2016 and was initially funded by the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Later in 2017, USDA funded the study through 2020 with a total project funding of more $300,000.

Mittal will use concepts and methods that he has learned in his IE studies, such as supply chain management, machine learning, engineering economic analysis, process automation and statistical analysis. Other collaborators on the project include Caroline C. Krejci, Mittal’s co-major professor who currently serves on the industrial engineering faculty at the University of Texas at Arlington; Jason Grimm, Deputy Director at Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D); Kayla Koether, Food Systems Specialist at ISU Extension and Outreach; and various food hub managers across Iowa.

Mittal will be graduating with his Ph.D. in industrial engineering in December 2019. Since summer 2019, he has served on the faculty of the industrial engineering technology department at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also continues to work as a supply chain researcher for Iowa Valley RC&D, where he is currently working on three different USDA-funded projects related to process automation and data-driven tool development in the area of food safety and shared logistics among food hubs in Iowa.

Mittal grew up in Rajasthan, India, and graduated with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Delhi College of Engineering, University of Delhi. He worked for two years as a Systems Engineer at Doosan Power Systems in Gurgaon, India, before pursuing his graduate studies at Iowa State.

Mittal presenting his research at a poster session during the 2017 Winter Simulation Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“I was really fascinated by how there is an entire field in engineering focused on improving system efficiencies. Skills and knowledge gained through industrial engineering can be widely applied across different domains and therefore, it can be a really good choice for graduate studies for those who have a wide array of interest. Therefore, I chose to pursue graduate degree in industrial engineering,” said Mittal, adding that part of the reason he chose Iowa State was because of the wide breadth of research taking place within the IE department as well as smaller class sizes which lead to a closer relationship with faculty.

As a graduate student, Mittal has served as an NSF Trinect Fellow and as a Summer Institute of Sustainability and Energy (SISE) 2018 Fellow. Much of his research at Iowa State has been focused on developing quantitative methodologies to study sustainable sociotechnical systems with applications in regional food supply chains, renewable energy and food insecurity. After completing his studies at Iowa State, he will remain on the faculty at Dunwoody College of Technology and will continue as a research collaborator at Iowa Valley RC&D.

“Through my research in the lab and my work in the classroom, Iowa State’s industrial engineering program has really helped to prepare me to take the next step after graduation,” said Mittal.