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OM in the News: The Customized Bicycle Industry

April 16, 2014

bike custom

The vast majority of bikes sold in the US are made in Asia and a handful of companies dominate the market, writes The Atlantic (April 3, 2014).  Custom-made bikes are a very small slice of the industry. “But right now is the Golden Age in custom frame building,” says one industry expert. “There have never been more builders producing, and the quality has never been higher.” Though thriving, the 100 or so builders in the hand-built bicycle scene make up about 3.3% of the overall U.S. bike industry, valued at $6.1 billion and is sourced almost completely overseas. Almost 99% of bicycles sold in the U.S.are assembled in Asia—93% in China and 6% in Taiwan.

Additionally, just four companies—Dorel, Accell, Trek Bicycle, and Specialized Bicycle—own about half of the 140 bicycle brands available in this country. Technology, though, is very accessible to a one-person or two-person shop or frame builder. A lot of the innovation and creativity comes from the thinking that smaller companies can produce. Technology has made the production side more important by lowering the cost of reaching customers. The internet opens up selling opportunities–and more competition. So production and design capabilities are critical.

Unlike production bicycles that come off the rack in standard shapes and sizes, custom bikes are designed specifically for their owners’ bodies, riding styles, and aesthetic preferences. In determining the angles, rigidity, and flex of the frames they construct, hand builders take into account dozens of measurements and factors—everything from customers’ inseams, arm length and hip flexibility to whether they prefer a stiff ride for efficiency or a softer ride for comfort. The customer also has a say in the bike’s finish, color scheme and design. Ranging in price from $3,000 to more than $15,000, the primary market for custom bikes is affluent people in their 40s or 50s—more men than women—who are steeped in the cycling lifestyle and already own one bike, if not 10.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Which of the production processes described in Chapter 7 applies here?

2. Why is the industry surviving–and succeeding?

OM in the News: The Environmentally Friendly Paper Cup

April 14, 2014
Starbucks has been serving in paper cups for years

Starbucks has been serving in paper cups for years

Jamba Juice, McDonald’s, and several other food chains are starting to serve their drinks in paper cups. Drinks stay just as hot and cold in  new doubled-walled paper cup as in the old non-biodegradeable foam variety. The paper industry likes it a lot too. Demand for paper cups is growing 5% a year. Environmental concerns from consumers and new bans on plastic foam in more U.S. cities are prompting food chains to make a switch, reports The Wall Street Journal (April 11, 2014).

Jamba Juice said last year it would adopt paper cups for its smoothies and other cold drinks “to improve our environmental footprint.” McDonald’s is replacing plastic-foam cups with double-walled McCafe paper cups at all 14,000 McCafes across the country. The company says it is trying to be more environmentally conscious and cut costs on trash. Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. has said it is testing paper cups. These companies join Starbucks, which has been using paper for years.

Environmental advocates say paper is easier on the environment than plastic foam because the latter tends to break up in landfills and then is mistaken by animals for food. Plastic foam is difficult to recycle unless it is kept clean and separated from other types of plastics—so many plants in the U.S. don’t take it. It isn’t biodegradable.

Paper cups are slightly more expensive than foam. Extras like double walls for insulation or plant-based lining to make it compostable add to the price. While the paper cups cost a few cents more, McDonald’s says it will make up the difference in the trash. Most of the chain’s waste is paper-based– wraps, fry cartons and Big Mac boxes—so paper cups can go into the same trash bin, and eventually into recycling bins.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is McDonald’s switching from foam to paper cups?

2. Why are plastic foam cups a concern to society?

OM in the News : Wal-Mart’s Green Initiative

April 13, 2014

wal mart greenIn our new chapter, called Sustainability in the Supply Chain, we note Wal-Mart’s role in developing a sustainable product index. A leader in making its operations more environmentally sound, Wal-Mart’s impact on global supply chains is the topic of an interview in The Wall Street Journal (April 9, 2014). Here is what CEO Michael Duke has to say:

It’s not about a corporate team.  It’s about getting 2 million people who work for Wal-Mart excited all over the world about sustainability. But also our partners that we work together with. How do we create a company that has zero waste? But we’ve established a goal to reduce energy consumption. We want to have a reduction of 20% of energy consumption, kilowatt-hours per square foot.

This past year, we established something for our merchandising. It relates to the sustainability index, which lets us measure the products that we sell related to sustainability, from the footprint all the way through to the consumption and the full life cycle of the product. It causes the merchants then to look at everything that we sell and say, “How do we improve the index? 

Working with our suppliers, we went to more concentrated, taking water out of liquid laundry detergent. So the liquid detergent that was this big of a bottle became [a smaller] bottle, but did just as many laundry loads. Recently, we’ve worked with Clorox, and now bleach is that way.

We’ve had a big initiative in other countries to try to raise the bar with factories on how product is manufactured. We kicked off with several hundred suppliers in China to increase energy efficiency, create more sustainable production practices throughout China. We kicked off this past year a big initiative on product made in the U.S. With rising cost of energy and moving product all over the world, it makes more sense in the long-term for more product to be made closer to the consumer.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why has the firm made this “green initiative”?

2. What is the sustainability index?


OM in the News: Delta’s Unorthodox Scheduling System

April 11, 2014
Delta's Control Room

Delta’s Control Room

“The crew of Delta Air Lines  Flight 55 last Thursday couldn’t legally fly from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta unless they waited a day due to new limits on how much pilots can fly in a rolling 28-day period,” writes The Wall Street Journal (April 3, 2014). The trip would have to be canceled. Instead, Delta headquarters told the captain to fly to San Juan, which they could reach within their duty limits. There, two new pilots would be waiting to take the Boeing 767 on to Atlanta. The plane arrived in San Juan at 2:44 a.m., quickly took on fuel and pilots, and landed in Atlanta only 40 minutes late.

The episode, unorthodox in the airline industry, illustrates the fanaticism Delta now has for avoiding cancellations. Last year, Delta canceled just 0.3% of its flights. That was twice as good as the next-best airlines, Southwest and Alaska, and five times better than the industry average of 1.7%.

As it cut cancellations with a more-reliable operation, overall on-time arrivals improved and Delta has fewer delays. Managers in Delta operations center (featured in our Global Company Profile  in Chapter 15) move planes, crews and parts around hourly trying to avoid canceling flights. How well an airline maintains its fleet and how smartly it stashes spare parts and planes at airports affect whether a flight goes or not. Delta’s new analytical software and instruments that can help monitor the health of airplanes and predict which parts will soon fail. Empty planes are ferried to replace crippled jets rather than waiting for overnight repairs. Typically the airline has about 20 spare airplanes of different sizes each day. About half are stationed in Atlanta and the rest spread around other domestic hubs and two in Tokyo.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why have Delta’s operations managers focused on cancelling fewer flights?

2. How does Delta’s fleet age (one of the oldest in the industry) impact this strategy?

OM in the News: The Danger of Workplace Noise

April 9, 2014
A study links hearing and work-related injuries

A study links hearing and work-related injuries

Extremely loud noise on the job, as well as hearing loss from noise exposure, may cause workers to miss danger warnings, reports Newsmax Health (April 3, 2014). Workers regularly exposed to noise levels of 100 decibels – about the volume standing next to a lawnmower – have more than doubled risk of being hospitalized for a workplace injury. Workers with hearing loss were also more likely to be seriously hurt.

“Noise induced hearing loss is a public health issue – in the US, up to 30 million workers are exposed to noise,” said a Canadian researcher. “From an occupational safety perspective, work-related injuries remain an important issue that generates significant costs for businesses, workers and compensation organizations.” Exposure to high noise levels increases fatigue, decreases the ability to concentrate and impairs the quality of communication between workers.
Both noise and noise-induced hearing loss could be involved in the occurrence of accidents. For every decibel of hearing loss, the risk of hospitalization due to work-related injury increased by 1 percent. Workers exposed to noise levels above 100 decibels had 2.4 times the risk of being hospitalized for work-related injuries compared to workers not exposed to loud noise. Workers with the combination of severe hearing loss and working in an environment where noise exposure is overly intense the risk of being hospitalized with a work-related injury is 3.6 times that of workers with neither factor.
Workers who can’t hear properly, either because of hearing loss or wearing hearing protection that’s too strong, might miss important communications and signals on the job. One thing that might help is if workers and supervisors devise special safety signals that don’t rely as much on hearing.
Classroom discussion questions:
1. What levels of noise are students exposed to daily? Refer to Figure 10.4b in Chapter 10.
2. How can an operations manager protect employees?

OM in the News: Laying Out the Bank of the Future

April 7, 2014

bank“JPMorgan’s banks of the future will fundamentally upend Americans’ relationship with banking,” writes The New York Times (April 2, 2014). They will offer more services for customers in far less space. The layout of the new banks has gained urgency across the industry as a growing number of customers use mobile technologies to conduct many traditional banking functions, like check deposits and paying bills, without ever stepping into a branch. Either the bank branches adapt or they go the way of video stores.

JPMorgan is not the only institution trying to reimagine the traditional bank branch with its long rows of tellers standing behind glass. Across Wall Street, banks are looking to slash expenses and wring more profit from retail banking. Banking giants like Bank of America and Citigroup are working to overhaul branches with the goal of more closely resembling an Apple store, where employees holding tablets and other high-tech gadgets tend to customers.

Last year, Wells Fargo opened a 1,200-square-foot “minibranch” in Washington. JPMorgan, whose legacy bank branches averaged about 4,400 square feet several years ago, has already slimmed them down to 2,500 to 3,500 square feet. That firm began by convening focus groups to determine what customers wanted. The findings: space and simplicity.

Within the new branches, the teller line is no longer the centerpiece. That has been moved to the side. The focal point is now occupied by express banking kiosks, a kind of souped-up A.T.M. Aside from their new look, the machines allow more customized transactions. Customers can, for example, opt to get cash in any amount and any denomination, not just in $20 bills or $50 bills. The new machines are safer, too. Unlike traditional A.T.M.s that must be restocked with cash, these units replenish their own supplies from deposits, cutting down on the amount of times that employees have to ferry money to the vaults.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is layout a major concern to banks?

2. What other changes are taking place to make kiosks more secure>?

OM in the News: The Credit Card of Tomorrow

April 4, 2014

credit cardSINCE the 1970s, paying with plastic has been pretty standard everywhere: Customers swiped their cards, signed receipts and took home their purchases. But after security breaches at Target last year led to the loss of personal data from as many as 110 million customers, the financial industry is racing to adopt technologies that will alter that decades-old ritual. To many, it is about time. The roots of the magnetic strip on credit cards extend back to World War II, ample time for thieves to learn to hack and steal those black lines of account information.

Credit card fraud totaled $5.3 billion in the U.S. alone in 2012, reports The New York Times (April 2, 2014), giving the industry plenty of incentive to devise a better system. The amount lost to fraud continues to grow 30-50% a year. Europe and parts of Asia have already used the system for the better part of a decade, while American merchants and issuers have balked, largely because of cost. Chip-equipped cards (called “E.M.V.” technology for “Europay, MasterCard, VISA”) cost $1.30 each to make, while a standard plastic card with a magnetic stripe on the back costs 10 cents. Retailers, too, have been loath to update their systems to accept chip technology because of the added cost.

“E.M.V. is going to cost billions of dollars to implement in this country,” says one analyst. But the system works. In 2005, when Britain fully phased in the E.M.V. technology, credit counterfeit card fraud was 25%; such fraud plummeted to 11% seven years later.

Visa, MasterCard and American Express all recently announced road maps for adopting smart chips, with the aim of forcing retailers and issuers to put E.M.V. in place by October 2015 in the U.S. By then, the liability for any counterfeit fraud will fall on whoever has not adopted the chip technology. From 17 million to 20 million chip cards have been issued in the U.S. But that represents just 2% of the 1 billion cards in use.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is this an OM issue?

2. Why have the Europeans led in accepting the chip-equipped cards?


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