Day 2 at APICS

S&OP, supply chain risk management and Big Data and the Internet of Things were front and center at this year’s conference

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Here’s a question: When is an owner’s manual a warehousing and distribution, or supply chain, issue?

That was the first thought that came to mind at the end of Day 2 at APICS yesterday when I met with Jay Brislin, as vice president at Quantum Rehab, a manufacturer of powered wheel chairs under the Pride Mobility brand. Brislin had just finished a joint presentation on automating the documentation process (think print on demand), along with John Brandt from the research firm The MPI Group and Dennis Amorosano from Canon U.S.A..

Brislin was struggling with was that up-to-date and approved owners manuals are critical to his products, which are FDA approved as medical devices. They are also complicated by the fact that any given product can be configured in 100’s of ways. His company had invested significant time and resources to implement Lean processes that resulted in real improvement in their manufacturing processes, only to have a finished wheel chair, ready to ship, sit on the dock for days while they got the right manual for that chair. “During the Lean processes, we hadn’t thought about the owners manuals,” Brislin said. “We didn’t think of them as a supply chain issue.” It was sort of like running red lights and stop signs to get to the airport only to find out your plane had been cancelled. The solution was a process to print owners manuals on demand at the end of the manufacturing line. The system creates the right manual for that chair as it is configured coming down the line. Its printed at attached to the chair when it gets to the end of the line, leading to real improvements in productivity.

Innovation and technology were among the most discussed topics at this year’s event, especially the Internet of Things and Big Data, along with S&OP and supply chain risk management, or SCRM. They were all good examples of how the supply chain manager’s role is evolving, regardless of their area of responsibility. “The expectation of the consumer is driving supply chain management,” is the way Abe Eshkenazi, APICS’ CEO, put it. “System have to be able to meet those expectations rather than drive customer expectations.” Eshkenazi added that at the moment, today’s rate of technological change is outpacing the ability of individuals and their organizations to take advantage of them. That, in turn, is going to drive the supply chain workforce challenge of the future. “We have to build the awareness of careers in logistics to get individuals with the right knowledge, skills and critical thinking to meet the challenges.”

Part of that, Eshkenazi said, will be the result of ongoing professional development but it will also require the industry to be more diverse and more inclusive to attract women and minorities who currently make up a small percentage of the industry and a smaller percentage of senior leadership.

As to S&OP and SCRM, Eshkenazi noted that as recently as seven or eight years ago, sustainability, including the sustainability of the organization, was viewed as a “nice to have” in surveys of managers. Today, he says, nearly every function within an organization has an appreciation of the impact a supply chain event can have on a company. As a result, those two are now “need to haves.” With regard to S&OP, planning - and aligning the supply chain plan with the business goals of the company - have never been more important.

I also left APICS 2016 with a thought about the opportunity and hurdle to the adoption of the Internet of Things and connected devices in the supply chain following a presentation by Hannah Kain and Brandon Muragg of ALOM. We all have heard the stats that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, generating unimaginable amounts of data that can be used to make supply chains more efficient. That’s the opportunity and promise of IoT. As Kain put it, “Data becomes the business and the product” that your organization produces.

At the same time, based on conversations I had with some end users of internet enabled lift trucks, conveyors and automated materials handling systems at a conference earlier this month, in many instances, their IT departments would not allow them to put those systems on the network. It sounds great to have a lift truck that can communicate real-time operational information through the cloud to a system that can monitor, analyze the data and predict when something may fail. It’s not so great if your IT manager won’t allow you to put it on the network and share that information out of security concerns. “The tension between IT and operations is real,” Muragg said. “It’s pretty clear that we’re going to have to begin getting IT involved in these decisions much earlier in the process as the Internet of Things evolves.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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