COIL: A Deep Architecture for Column Generation

Column generation is a popular method to solve large-scale linear programs with an exponential number of variables. Several important applications, such as the vehicle routing problem, rely on this technique in order to be solved. However, in practice, column generation methods suffer from slow convergence (i.e. they require too many iterations). Stabilization techniques, which carefully select the column to add at each iteration, are commonly used to improve convergence. In this work, we frame the problem of selecting which columns to add as one of sequential decision-making. We propose a neural column generation architecture that iteratively selects columns to be added to the problem. Our architecture is inspired by stabilization techniques and predicts the optimal duals, which are then used to select the columns to add. We proposed architecture, trained using imitation learning. Exemplified on the Vehicle Routing Problem, we show that several machine learning models yield good performance in predicting the optimal duals and that our architecture outperforms them as well as a popular state-of-the-art stabilization technique. Further, the architecture can generalize to instances larger than those observed during training.



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