Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

June 2012    |    Volume: 44    |    Number: 6

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

My Account    |     Create Login

Front Line

News, trends & tactics in the June 2012 issue of Industrial Engineer

Someday your bus will come

Georgia Tech and Chicago colleagues combine to improve transit service
When the bus isn’t on time, too many of them are showing up at once.A self-coordinating system for buses was tested on the Georgia Tech trolley system, which carries 5,000 students a day.

Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Chicago researchers have developed a possible solution to bus bunching – the phenomenon where several buses show up one after another – and tested it on the university’s trolley line.

Georgia Tech industrial and systems engineering professor John Bartholdi and Don Eisenstein, a colleague from the University of Chicago who earned his Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, said their system of tablet computers to control the trolleys serves riders better, simplifies the jobs for drivers and reduces work for management. Their interdisciplinary team of students devised an equation to compute the delays so that gaps between buses “self-equalize.”

“Because of its simplicity, our scheme is easy to implement and easy to adapt,” said Bartholdi, who is also the Manhattan Associates Chair of Supply Chain Management. “We expect it to be useful for other transportation systems with short headways, such as subway trains or airport shuttles.”

The first step toward reliable bus service was to abandon a fixed schedule and have drivers go with the flow of traffic. Each bus has a GPS and cell phone. The GPS constantly reports the bus’ position to a central server. When a bus stops, the server sends a message via cell phone telling the driver how long to wait and when to proceed.

The server calculates the departure time via the “self-equalizing” equation, according to Bartholdi.

“The equation computes a wait time for each bus arriving at a control point in such a way that gaps between buses tend to equalize,” Bartholdi said. “Exactly how that happens is the magic of the mathematics.”

Tests on Georgia Tech’s trolley line, which carries more than 5,000 students a day, earned positive results and feedback from riders and drivers.

In fits and starts

Brutal recession leads into brittle recovery, but manufacturing offers hope
For IEs and other performance improvement specialists still in the job market, hope is coming – albeit slowly.

Companies looking to tighten their supply chains are bringing some manufacturing back to North America. And as the economy lumbers out of the Great Recession, hiring interest has increased in industrial manufacturing, according to Jason Ward, managing director of RSR Partners.

Ward, who has spent the past 15 years recruiting for the light and heavy manufacturing, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors, said his company is seeing increased interest in hiring in the area of industrial manufacturing.

“The fact that they are out and looking to add people in a function that talks to strategic business development and mergers and acquisitions is a very bullish medium- to long-term bet on where the economy is going,” said Ward, who leads his company’s industrial practice. “Because frankly, that’s a box on the org chart that has been empty since the second quarter of 2008.”

Executive recruiter Jason Ward said industrial manufacturing companies are, for the first time since 2008, looking to add personnel for strategic business development.Ward said hiring is fragile, brittle and inconsistent – what many call the “new normal” – but it is happening. For example, on the same day that Bloomberg News reported that in April the U.S. economy added the fewest number of jobs in seven months, Reuters said that in the same month, manufacturing grew at its largest rate in 10 months. And U.S. unemployment remained at 8.2 percent.

Manufacturing, about 12 percent of U.S. economic activity, has been a cornerstone of the economy’s recovery from the 2007-2009 recession, according to Reuters. That matches Ward’s perspective. He likened the U.S. economy to an eight-cylinder truck going up a steep grade, trying to build a head of steam on only two cylinders.

“Those two cylinders are industrial manufacturing,” Ward said. “The other cylinders of that engine, consumer spending, housing, the stock market, the tech bubble, the Internet, are all offline for our economy at this time.”

It has been decades since the U.S. economy was powered by industry, but luckily, engineering professionals serve those two important cylinders, Ward said. But misperceptions cloud the picture for those looking to hire and those wanting jobs.“

While it’s true that there are people who are out of work through no fault of their own, by and large companies found a way to hold on to their top performers,” he said.Those people have a job, probably are underwater on their mortgage, and are reluctant to change since many companies look at the unemployment rate and offer potential hires less than compelling packages, particularly if it requires relocating, he said.

“The idea that we want you to take this job, but it is going to cost you money to take this job, is a recipe for getting turned down if you’re the employer,” Ward said. “They’re not prepared for the level of reluctance and hesitancy that they’re seeing.”

At entry-, junior- or middle level positions, nobody buys houses anymore, and few give attractive relocation packages, according to Ward. But forward-thinking companies are realizing they have to be more tolerant for people who can’t unload their house or want to commute for six months or a year before committing to a full-time move. Ward noted that some businesses are extending temporary living arrangements as well.

Still, Ward encourages IEs early in their careers to be less risk-averse to a move if they want to wind up in the executive, vice president or board level. They should focus more on exposure to senior management and whether they’re at the core of what a company does, and worry about compensation in their fifth or sixth job.

“If you want be in the automotive sector, then be in the design engineering or manufacturing engineering portion of the automotive concern or a top supplier,” he said. “Don’t be in IT or customer support or the call center. In so doing, you will stick out from the rest of the crowd.”

A good boss

Eight ways to tell if your leaders really know what's up
Through the years, Industrial Engineer and Industrial Management magazines have brought readers a variety of stories about poor management techniques and horrible bosses. But how do you know you’re working for a great boss or CEO?

Recently, Geoffrey James wrote “Eight Signs of an Extraordinary Boss” for According to James, the best managers have a different understanding of workplace, company and team dynamics. Here is a quick summary.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE: Compete and network

“We are all interested in sustainability, and we thought this would be an interesting challenge. Competing in a case competition gives you an insight into problems the company deals with, and it is also a good networking opportunity.”
— Lehigh University industrial engineering student Angela Visco on her team’s entry into the 2012 Ingersoll-Rand case competition, “Building a Sustainable Future.” Visco was quoted March 14 in the school’s online student newspaper, The Brown and White.

An ecosystem, not a battlefield: Instead of demonizing competitors or conquering customers, top leaders create teams that adapt easily to changing markets. They can form partnerships with other companies, customers and competitors.

A community, not a machine: Rigid structures and rules aren’t true performance enhancements, and the good bosses inspire their employees to improve themselves and their company.

Service, not control: Average bosses squelch initiatives by going ballistic over anything that smacks of insubordination. The extra-ordinary leaders set direction, recruit the resources employees need and step in only in emergencies.

Peers vs. children: Patriarchal management doesn’t trust employees, who then look to cover their behinds. CEOs who treat every employee as “the most important person in the firm” get them to take charge of their own destinies.

Vision vs. fear: Average bosses see fear as a crucial motivation, paralyzing their charges into avoiding decisions. Although James didn’t quote Deming’s “Drive out fear,” he wrote that extraordinary bosses inspire people to see how they fit into a better future. Thus, the employees work harder and know they’ll share the rewards.

Change equals growth, not pain: Average bosses torpedo change until it is too late. The better ones see change as inevitable and know survival continues if the organization embraces new ways of doing business.

Technology for empowerment: The old way wants technology to strengthen management control via centralized computer systems that dehumanize employees. But technology should free people’s creativity and relationship-building. They adapt their systems to the tools people want to use.

Fun vs. toiling: Work is not a necessary evil. Employees don’t have to resent it. Extraordinary bosses think their No. 1 job is putting people in jobs that best fit their skills to make them truly happy.

Offshoring. No big deal?

Economist says numbers involved are small percentage of jobs overall
A University at Buffalo economics professor reported that the 3.4 million jobs offshored from the United States between 2002 and 2015 represented a miniscule 0.53 percent of the nearly 60 million jobs within nine categories.

Winston Chang’s research noted that an annual loss of 100,000 service jobs accounts for 0.1 percent of total employment. And the notion that all of them will move offshore is empirically and theoretically flawed because catering, retail, hotels, restaurants, tourism and personal care require the buyer and seller to be in the same place.

Chang’s paper, “The Economics of Offshoring,” appears online in the Social Science Research Network. It notes that sending lower-skilled manufacturing jobs elsewhere allows U.S. companies to redirect savings to research and development, new areas of operation or new products and services. Complex, higher-skilled jobs are more difficult to offshore, and high-skilled workers benefit from the vast increase of low-skilled workers in the world, according to Chang. What’s more, offshoring some stages of production can create more domestic employment in other stages of production, Chang said. And offshoring promotes economic growth that diminishes the wage gap between other countries and the United States.“

Offshoring has undoubtedly contributed to the economic growth of many developing countries, which has led to currency appreciation and higher standards of living,” he said. “It is possible that we are about to see the tides turn as manufacturing activities are being ‘reshored’ back to the U.S. due to rising costs in these developing countries.”

The 50 percent solution

True collaboration revolutionizes supply chain metrics
A think tank has concluded that “truly collaborative” trading relationships can improve operational metrics by 50 percent.

“Collaborative execution is defined as working together to improve supply chain performance by continuously solving real problems with better information,” Fahim Afghan, vice president of research at SCM World, told the Material Handling Institute of America. “We saw from a majority of responses that, by harnessing this collaboration, supply chains can be leaner, with less inventory and lower costs. At the same time, we saw the expectation that risk can be reduced and innovation increased, with a rapid rate of learning.”

PRIME NUMBER: Bucking for space

Penn State’s Lunar Lion team hopes to win the $20 million grand prize in the Google Lunar X Competition. To win, the 40 active team members – including an industrial engineer – must safely land a spacecraft on the moon by 2015. The lander has to travel 500 meters on the surface while sending images, video and data back to Earth.
Source: The Central Daily Times, March 20

Operational metrics ripe for improvement included inventory days, total landed cost and cash-to-cash cycles.

The SCM survey, called “Collaborative Execution: Speed, Innovation and Profitability,” of 374 supply chain professionals found that 92 percent cited rapid problem resolution as part of good collaboration. Truly collaborative relationships responded twice as fast or faster to problems than noncollaborative ones.

Thus, the survey found, information sharing from customers and suppliers was vital to collaboration. In addition, 70 percent of respondents said the rate of learning increases by at least one-and-a-half times in a collaborative framework.

Legos build STEM skills

Indiana IE implements robotics program to lead Montessori School
An Indiana industrial engineer is taking the United States’ poor ranking in science and math personally.

Come this fall, Vivian Cain, a mechanical and industrial engineer, will be executive director of the only Montessori school in the Greater Indianapolis area that has a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum for children from kindergarten to third grade, according to U.S. News & World Report recently ranked U.S. students 25th in math and 17th in science worldwide.

“Americans have fallen behind in science, technology, engineering and math,” Cain said. “We are losing our competitive advantage on a global scale, and educators need to embrace these subjects. I have encouraged our teachers and parents to take advantage of Maria Montessori International Academy’s STEM program, which allows students to learn how to build Lego robotics from scratch. Kids can see cause and effect. They get the opportunity to challenge their minds by developing their own villages … and deciding how many doctors’ offices, businesses, schools, houses and neighborhoods will be required to sustain a healthy community,” said Cain.

The STEM curriculum teaches each student valuable life skills such as communications, planning and working together as a group. The curriculum can be developed over a period of three years with increased complexity and use of various STEM concepts.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: Statistics can't be project outliers

Use traditional tools to keep control of what's going onStatistical Techniques for Project Control
According to the old saying, there are lies … other lies (this is a family magazine) and statistics.

Actually, industrial engineers know that statistics are more than useful. But there has been a void in the application of statistics for project control. Authors and IIE members Adedeji B. Badiru and Tina Kovach hope that Statistical Techniques for Project Control fills that void.

The book explores how to temper quantitative analysis with the qualitative human judgment that can make controlling projects difficult. Time, budget and performance are discussed, along with a focus on computational network techniques to make sure your project comes in on time and on budget.

The text presents qualitative managerial tools for project control, covers statistical tools in a nonintimidating way, includes conventional project network analysis, contains practical case studies and uses graphical representations and figures to convey knowledge.

All the IE favorites – lean, Six Sigma, work sampling – are involved. And a chapter on project control case studies covers gage R&R and ANOVA, along with capability, analytical and multivariate studies.

Statistical Techniques for Project Control is published by CRC Press ($99.95).

Rock this way

Cornell students engineer controls that turn robots into musical virtuosos
About 30 Cornell students demonstrated the university’s systems engineering and robotics exercise at the Cornell Cup USA in Walt Disney World.Jim Kehoe demonstrates the puppet suit controller for one of the Rock Band-playing robots. 

The students hosted 22 university student teams vying for cash prizes at the inaugural cup, held May 4-5. The competition gave students the chance to innovate, design and apply “embedded technology” – small-scale technologies that pervade life in cellphones, iPads and other devices. Entries ranged from a solar-powered drone to a robotic dog waste-remover, according to the Cornell Chronicle.

The students combine their creative spirit with their best efforts at professional design using systems engineering concepts, said David Schneider, a lecturer in Cornell Systems Engineering. Professional design involves everything from describing a solution to meeting a need, as well as built-in evaluation and risk analysis.

“The competition really encourages them to think in this way,” said Schneider, the Cornell Cup lead organizer.

The Cornell demonstration team connected three humanoid robots to a computing platform to play the game Rock Band at 99 percent accuracy at the “expert” level, a tough feat for human gamers. The robots’ movements are controlled by a human wearing a puppet suit.

In addition, six modular robots demonstrated a basic platform for robots that can move in different directions and execute different tasks.