The Case of the Vanishing Drugs

FEBRUARY 25, 2014

The Aethon Tug mobile robot delivering meds at U. of Maryland hospital

“Hospitals have a drug problem.,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 24, 2014),  ”and they’re looking to technology to solve it.” The problem is the way medications are being mishandled by hospital pharmacies and wards. Inventory management is inefficient, drugs are too often misplaced, and narcotic medications are prone to theft.  In addition to turning to password-protected dispensing machines, RFID tags and roaming robots to deliver prescriptions, hospitals are adopting software that tracks every dose of medication to identify suspicious activity.

By making it easier to track medicines, the changes give nurses more time to spend with patients. Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, for example, estimates that its medication-tracking system saves the hospital $600,000 a year just in time lost from pharmacists, technicians and nurses locating meds. The new systems also help improve patient safety by identifying staffers who are siphoning drugs for their own use, a problem known as “diversion.” About 15% of health-care professionals are addicted to prescription drugs at some point in their career. These drug-related inventory losses cost millions each year. The software also allow hospitals to better manage inventory by not stocking medicines that are never used, or by keeping just enough of expensive drugs on hand to meet demand.

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, mobile robots deliver medications to nursing units. Pharmacy staffers print a label, scan and place the medication in one of the robot’s locked drawers, and then enter a destination into a program that communicates wirelessly with the robot. The robot navigates its way to the right unit, where a nurse uses a passcode and fingerprint scanner to retrieve the medication. Delivery reliability—how often the drugs arrive at the unit as promised—has increased by 23%, and delivery predictability—how often they get there within the time promised—has risen by 50%. The per-trip cost with a robot averages $2.40, down from $5.50 for hand delivery, and in its first year the system freed up 6,123 hours of nurses’ time.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Wal-Mart Ramps Up Global E-Commerce

FEBRUARY 23, 2014

A worker at Wal-Mart's "dark store" in Mexico City

Wal-Mart says it has cracked the code for speedy, same-day grocery delivery—in Mexico. As retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com rush to expand home delivery in the U.S. to groceries, the retail giant is looking across the border for help: Its high-end Mexican grocery chain, Superama, already delivers groceries in as little as 3 hours.

Wal-Mart has ramped up its global e-commerce operations over the past few years, writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 19, 2014), in hopes of catching up to online rival Amazon.com. The company vowed to match Amazon’s service offerings within 2 years. Currently, only about 2% of Wal-Mart’s sales come from the Web.

The company has been testing home-grocery delivery in Colorado and California, but it hasn’t announced a timeline for taking the service nationwide. It is also experimenting with grocery delivery in such cities as Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile. Wal-Mart says it is “committed to being the online global leader in grocery delivery.”

Mexico provides $27 billion in sales and contributes 6% of the company’s global sales. Superama helped Wal-Mart achieve a 92% market share in the home delivery of groceries in Mexico. A fifth of its grocery orders arrive via mobile-phone apps, computers and tablets. The service is strongest in Mexico City, where much of Mexico’s wealth is concentrated. The capital’s snarled traffic and cramped grocery stores make delivery from Superama appealing for the well-to-do.

The majority of the grocery deliveries in Mexico come from supermarkets that are open to the public. But in the future, Wal-Mart de México plans to deploy more “dark stores”— spaces used exclusively to fulfill online orders. Such “closed” stores are more efficient: Wal-Mart’s inaugural dark store in Mexico City handles the same volume of orders as 5 stores open to the public.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Debugging the New Airbus A350 Jet

FEBRUARY 21, 2014

The A350's curved wingtips reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency

“A million parts, flying in tight formation,” is how BusinessWeek(Feb.17-23, 2014) describes the debugging of Airbus’ latest new plane, the A350. The European company desperately wants to avoid the kinds of problems that have plagued rival Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. After several production fiascoes, the 787 endured further problems when its lithium-ion battery packs burst into flame. For the A350 to be economically viable, says Airbus, “the airlines need an operational reliability above 99 percent.” That means that no more than one flight out of every 100 is delayed by more than 15 minutes because of technical reasons.

To ferret out the flaws in an airplane, Airbus technicians have come to depend on sophisticated computer systems. These, too, can introduce problems. Like the A350, the A380 superjumbo was designed entirely on computers, but engineers working in the company’s German and French operations hadn’t used the same versions of the design software. When assembly line workers started installing bundles of wires, they discovered that the German software had miscalculated the amount of wiring needed for the fuselage, which had been designed on French software. Miles of wiring turned out to be too short and had to be torn out from half-completed airframes and replaced.  In 2011 and 2012, cracks were found within the A380’s wings, prompting authorities to order the entire fleet to undergo detailed inspection of the structural integrity of the plane. To minimize the chances of that occurring in the A350, Airbus is putting the airframe sections through more than 80,000 simulated takeoff and landing cycles.

But much of the work is done by suppliers, not by Airbus itself. While the company might look to the outside world like an aircraft manufacturer, it’s more of an integrator: It creates the overall plan, then outsources the design and manufacture of the parts, which are then fitted together. “We have 7,000 engineers working on the A350,” says Airbus, “and at least half of them are not Airbus employees.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Why the VW Vote to Reject a Union is Big News

FEBRUARY 19, 2014

vwThe presence of labor unions can have a major impact on a company’s decision where to locate a manufacturing plant. So when workers at the Tennessee VW auto factory voted 712 to 626 last week against joining the United Automobile Workers, it was national news. VW did not oppose unionization, reports The New York Times (Feb. 17, 2014), and seemed to give tacit approval for unionization as a step toward establishing a “works council” at the plant. A works council is a committee, common at German factories, in which white-collar and blue-collar workers elect representatives who establish policies on issues like work hours, vacations and standards for firing workers. But it would be illegal under U.S. law for a company to establish a works council unless workers first voted to have a union represent them. Had a works council been set up at the VW plant, it would have been the first in the U.S.

U.A.W. officials were stunned by the defeat; they had expected to win because VW was not fighting the effort and, just months before, a majority of the plant’s employees had signed cards saying they favored union representation. One industry expert called the loss “a very serious setback for the union, a setback that will resonate throughout the South.” The U.A.W. campaign was clearly hurt by the anti-union sentiment common in the South, as well as an intense campaign by anti-union workers inside the plant who argued that they did not need a union or union dues because VW already treated and paid them well. Wages at the plant average $19.50 an hour.

Union officials accused Tennessee Senator Bob Corker of poisoning the atmosphere and preventing a fair election before the vote. Corker had told the media that VW had assured him they would add another production line at the plant (instead of going to Mexico) to make a new SUV if the factory’s workers rejected the union.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

The Logistics of Valentine’s Day Roses

FEBRUARY 15, 2014

Valentine_Rose

U.S. consumers buy the most flowers on Valentine’s and Mother’s Days–and getting fresh roses to market takes speed, the right temperature, and skill. Like all perishable products, flowers require specific temperatures to maintain freshness, without which they will lose their bloom.

Complicating this need for the ideal temperature, flowers travel a long way from field to store reports Supply Chain 24/7 (Feb. 13, 2014). Eighty percent of all flowers sold for Valentine’s Day are shipped from Latin America, with 12% coming from domestic production and 8% arriving from other locations. In 2013, 231,466 1,000-stem-count bushels of roses were imported into the U.S. from Latin America. Most of these came from Colombia (142,000) and Ecuador (79,000).

Shipping starts weeks before the holiday and the best flowers arrive early. The graphic shows the 2-week path of a rose, from the fields of Latin America to the hands of its recipient.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Using Regression Analysis to Forecast Olympic Medals

FEBRUARY 12, 2014

olympicsHow many medals will the U.S. walk away with at this year’s Winter Olympics? What about perennial runner-up China? Two brothers, writes Fast Company (Feb. 7, 2014), have the answers. Since the 2010 Winter games, the two collected more than 30 datasets and ran regression after regression until they found a model that accurately matched the past two Winter Olympics.  According to Tim and Dan Graettingers’ model, the U.S. will walk away once more with the most overall medals, though it won’t come close to last Olympic’s record-setting 37 individual awards.  China, which only won 11 medals in the last Winter Games, is set to double its haul.

For the final model, the Graettingers found that only four variables consistently predicted a country’s medal count in the Olympics (with an R-squared of .585):

Geographic area – Their best guess is that it may reflect the nation’s population and/or the genetic diversity within the nation and/or the presence of mountain ranges on which to ski and snowboard.  Also, it does separate the relatively larger nations of the world from the many small (geographically and population-wise) island nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

GDP per capita –  It seems to confirm the hunch that nations whose people are affluent can afford to spend time pursuing excellence in sports, while poorer nations cannot.

Value of Exports – This measure of a nation’s total economic power seems to complement per capita GDP.

Latitude of Nation’s Capital –  The further your country is from the equator, the more snow and ice you’ll have – and the more medals you’ll win at sports contested on snow and ice. (We can think of Oslo, Stockholm, or Helsinki).

By the way, no nation from Africa, South America, or the Middle East has ever won a medal at the Winter Olympic Games.  No nation from the Caribbean has either, despite the worthy efforts of the Jamaican bobsled team!

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Chipotle’s Operations Strategy for Faster Service

FEBRUARY 10, 2014

chipotle-service

Lines snaking out the door at lunchtime have long been a bottleneck to growth at Chipotle, the burrito chain, writes Quartz.com  (Jan. 31, 2014).  But the fast-food firm managed to speed up service by 6 transactions per hour at peak times this past quarter by implementing what it calls the “four pillars of great throughput.” Here they are:

+“Expediters” That would be the extra person between the one who rolls your burrito and the one who rings up your order. Her job? Getting your drink, asking whether your order is for here or to go, and bagging your food.
+“Linebackers” The people who patrol the countertops, serving-ware, and bins of food, so the ones who are actually serving customers never turn their backs on them.
+“Mise en place” What in a regular restaurant means setting out ingredients and utensils ready for use means, in Chipotle’s case, zero tolerance for not having absolutely everything in place ahead of lunch and dinner rush hours.
+“Aces in their places” A commitment to having what each branch considers its top servers in the most important positions at peak times, so there are no trainees working at burrito rush hour.
Chipotle is also mulling incorporating a Starbucks-style mobile payment system (the chain already accepts online orders for pick-up), which the company is hopeful will help funnel customers in and out of its lines a bit faster. But the company is open to a number of other options, too, so long as they help speed up service.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.