Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

The supply chain Santas

When we think of industrial engineers at work, images that waft through our brains probably include productive factories, efficient transportation systems and healthcare facilities where patients flow smoothly through care processes. The legendary Santa Claus, who in much of the world brings gifts and toys to good little girls and boys, usually doesn't come to mind.

Perhaps we should rethink that.

After all, any event that includes gift giving, by definition, includes the supply chain problem of getting said gift from giver to receiver. Santa himself is renowned to possess masterful logistical skill. (The lack of attention to Santa's IE department in the Christmas TV classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is, in my humble opinion, criminal. I have it on good authority that Santa's IEs were pushing for Rudolph's inclusion on Sleigh Team 1 very early in the game.)

This is why UPS and other major shipping companies don't skimp on the importance of industrial engineering. The company of the "big brown trucks" employs 1,600 IEs in the United States, 2,400 worldwide. Mark Wallace, who has spent the last year overseeing plans to meet the company's holiday shipping demand, recently was promoted from vice president of U.S. domestic industrial engineering to president of UPS Global Logistics and Distribution.

For this month's cover story, Wallace tells IIE Executive Editor Monica Elliott how UPS has focused heavily on four areas: forecasting, capacity, visibility and communication.

"Ready to Deliver," which starts on Page 28, details how the company is working with retail customers to predict demand, adding more operating days and delivery assets, using big data to optimize the routes of its drivers and bring visibility to the entire process, and improving communication via mobile apps and allowing customers to reroute deliveries to alternate locations.

So the next time you send your kids to bed with a holiday story, make sure to sprinkle a tale of industrial engineers among Rudolph and the elves.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.