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OM in the News: The NBA’s “Dirty Little Secret”

October 15, 2019

“There’s not a factory on the planet,” says one scientist, “that would move shift workers the way we move NBA players.”

IT’S THE AFTERNOON of Feb. 26, during a 3-games-in-4-nights stretch, and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside is on a roll. Tomorrow night, his Heat will host the Golden State Warriors, then fly to Houston to face the Rockets on Feb. 28. But now he’s rattling off what time the Warriors game will end (10 p.m.), when they’ll board their flight (after 11:30), when they’ll land in Houston (2 a.m.) and arrive at the hotel (3 a.m.) before playing the Rockets later that day.

Sleep matters, Whiteside says — it matters a lot. It “could be the difference between you having a career game or playing terrible.” Is it possible within the current NBA schedule to obtain consistent, quality sleep? “Nah,” Whiteside says. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible.”

Fatigue has long been a reality of life in the NBA, a league with teams that play 82 games in under 6 months and fly up to 50,000 miles per season — enough to circle the globe twice, reports (Oct. 14, 2019). Over the 2018-19 season, the average NBA team played every 2.07 days, had 13.3 back-to-back sets and flew the equivalent of 250 miles a day for 25 straight weeks.

Despite the league’s best efforts — lengthening its schedule in recent years, reducing back-to-backs for 5 straight seasons (down to an average of 12.4 per team in the coming season), eliminating 4-in-5 stretches, reducing the nationally televised games that tip off at 10:30 p.m., creating more rest days — sleep deprivation remains “our biggest issue without a solution. It’s the dirty little secret that everybody knows about,” says an NBA exec.

“I think in a couple years,” Tobias Harris says, “sleep deprivation will be an issue that’s talked about, like the NFL with concussions.” During the season, its estimated that players get 5 hours sleep per night. Chronic sleep loss has been associated with higher risk for cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, stroke, psychosis and suicide.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How is this an OM issue?
  2. What can be done to alleviate the problem, and what dangers are possible if it isn’t addressed?

OM in the News: Tesla Needs Its Battery Maker, But a Culture Clash Threatens

October 14, 2019

A Tesla Model S being fitted with a battery pack

In 2008, Tesla began delivering its first EV and wanted a partner capable of manufacturing lithium-ion batteries on a mass scale. But years after committing to invest billions of dollars in a shared battery factory in the Nevada desert, Panasonic has a strained relationship with Tesla. The Gigafactory was supposed to boost profits, cement Panasonic’s future in automotive electronics and give Tesla easy access to the most important—and expensive—component of its vehicles. “Instead,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 8, 2019), “the partnership has exposed a culture clash between the conservative, century-old Japanese conglomerate  and the 16-year-old Silicon Valley upstart built around Mr. Musk’s vision for upending 100 years of automotive tradition”.

Musk has pushed Panasonic to cut what it charges for the battery cells as Tesla builds another costly factory in China. Panasonic has resisted the pricing requests, and is hesitant to go into China with Tesla. Production has fallen behind schedule, and the race to catch up has thrown the Panasonic battery unit deeper into the red. Tesla, for its part, needs the Gigafactory to continuously improve efficiency and reduce manufacturing costs so it can lower its car prices, which it sees as critical to mainstream success.

An early source of tension was missed deadlines. Panasonic would rush to supply Tesla’s production targets only to find the auto maker behind schedule. Tesla unveiled the Model 3 to overwhelming interest, leading Musk to try to speed up production plans. In 2016, he promised the plant needed to make enough batteries for 500,000 vehicles by 2018—2 years ahead of the original plan. That meant the battery factory had to speed up plans in a round-the-clock operation. In April, 2019 Musk blasted Panasonic, saying it was operating at a pace that constrained Model 3 production, even though it appears Tesla will sell only 400,000 EVs this year.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Unhappy with the price of batteries Panasonic supplied for the Model S, Tesla made plans to build its own. But after a few months the plan was scrapped. Why do you think this happened?
  2.  Describe the relationship between these 2 companies.

OM in the News: Toyota Remakes Its Biggest Plant

October 10, 2019

Toyota’s largest plant in the world sits on 1,300 acres in rural Kentucky. With floor space equal to 170 football fields, the Georgetown factory houses more than 2,000 industrial robots, 6 cafeterias, and 2 paint shops. Its newest order of business has been to add the gas-electric hybrid version of the popular RAV-4 SUV to one of the plant’s three assembly lines, writes Businessweek (Oct. 7, 2019).

Georgetown is fighting to hold on to its status as Toyota’s biggest plant as demand for its sedans has plummeted and the 3-decade-old factory deals with high fixed costs, falling productivity, and the rise of a network of sibling plants in North America churning out more popular crossovers, SUVs, and trucks. When the factory opened, it was designed to assemble hundreds of thousands of mass-market vehicles, such as the midsize Camry. For 27 years that was Toyota’s bestselling car in America.

An AGV rolls down the Camry assembly line.

The Georgetown plant’s output peaked at 514,590 vehicles in 2007, just before the Great Recession. Americans’ appetite for sedans didn’t keep pace with a recovery in auto demand over the past decade. In 2018, Georgetown’s production totaled 430,224 cars, a sign of rapidly changing auto tastes. That meant investing $238 million more in Kentucky to add the RAV4 hybrid, bringing Toyota’s total investment in the plant to $7 billion.

Georgetown’s ebbing fortunes have increased pressure to cut costs and boost efficiency: it is now less expensive to build a Camry in Japan and ship it to Kentucky than to manufacture one locally. Kentucky is installing advanced flaw-detecting cameras, self-driving supply carts, and systems for sequencing component delivery so fewer parts need to be stored on the factory floor. That will require fewer workers doing manual tasks and will boost efficiency in line with newer factories. Toyota also is reconfiguring equipment to match its most flexible factories in Japan, which make a half-dozen different models on the same assembly line. So one of the big things that is changing is the plant layout.

Classroom discussion  questions:

  1. Why is plant capacity a vital issue here?
  2.  What changes have negatively impacted the plant’s success?

OM in the News: Delivering With Drones and Shooting Down Drones–2 Views

October 8, 2019

Two very interesting articles just appeared regarding the future of drones.

The first, in The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 2, 2019), notes that UPS is now cleared to deliver with drones, with federal approval to start setting up a fleet of unmanned aircraft to deliver health supplies and eventually consumer packages potentially throughout the U.S. The company obtained an immediate green light to ship products in North Carolina hospitals. This broad approval for an entire fleet of future drones and pilots on the ground opens the door for many other types of longer-range applications spanning rural and suburban areas. The first phase includes 100 or more hospital complexes. As delivery options expand, UPS says future steps may include a single operator on the ground controlling multiple flights, or using drones to supplement traditional package delivery by trucks in rural areas. Its goal is to be the first drone operator to operate on a sizable scale.

The second article, in Businessweek (Oct. 7, 2019), is titled “Tech’s Most Controversial Startup Now Makes Drone-Killing Robots.”  Here we learn that the Pentagon has spent years searching for reliable ways to combat consumer drones that have been repurposed as reconnaissance craft or bombers. (The use of miniature quadcopters

Anduril’s Interceptor

for spying or terrorism has long concerned the U.S. The fear was underscored this year when military-grade drones were used in attacks in Saudi Arabia and the Strait of Hormuz, and last year during an assassination attempt in Venezuela using hobbyist drones).

Now, Anduril Industries, a 2-year-old Calif. startup, has begun shipping dozens of its drone-destroying Interceptors to military clients in the U.S. and the U.K.; and has hundreds more in production, with contracts to deploy Interceptors to overseas conflict zones. The Defense Department has pursued various remedies, including jamming drones’ signals and netting them like butterflies. But the idea of electronically disabling or ensnaring a drone without destroying it seemed ludicrous to Anduril. “Why not just shoot it down? All the soft kill systems are a waste of time,” says the firm’s CEO.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Make the case for and against commercial drones in The U.S.
  2.  Why is Anduril called a controversial company?


OM in the News: Why Used Clothes Head for the Dump and Not the Recycling Center

October 5, 2019

Shoppers are buying more clothes and discarding them faster than ever, sending an increasing amount of textiles to the dump and propelling the fashion industry to search for new technology to recycle used garments, reports The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 4, 2019). The growth of fast-fashion retailers like H&M, Zara, and Gap–each vying to deliver quicker and cheaper style–has flooded the world with affordable clothing that is worn just a few times.

The number of garments purchased annually by the average consumer jumped 60% from 2000 to 2014, while the number of times an item is worn before it is discarded dropped 36%. Despite the buildup of used clothes, the technology to recycle old textiles into fiber to make new ones has remained embryonic, meaning clothes eventually end up in the dump or incinerator. Textiles in American landfills jumped 68% from 2000 to 2015.

So far, companies have focused on improving collection of used clothes. H&M and Zara have in-store bins to collect garments which are then sold as secondhand clothing, largely to emerging markets. But there has been little regulatory pressure on clothing makers to take responsibility for the waste generated by their products, unlike the crackdown seen in other areas, such as single-use plastics. Garments that are recycled are mostly turned into lower-value products like wiping cloths and insulation, which ultimately hit the landfill. Less than 1% of the fiber used to produce clothes is recycled into new garments.

The growing popularity of synthetic clothing like fleece jackets and gym leggings is also releasing more tiny plastic particles into the ocean when the garments are washed. The good news is that Americans are increasingly shopping for secondhand clothing, driven by desire to save money, help the environment and avoid appearing in the same clothes twice on social media platforms.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How can clothing manufacturers design and produce for sustainability? (See p.197-202 for ideas).
  2.  How many students in your class are buying used clothing, and why?


OM in the News: Saving the Planet With “Meatless Mondays?”

October 3, 2019

Without getting into the politics of global warming and sustainability, Businessweek (Sept. 30, 2019) brings up some interesting climate statistics that students may enjoy discussing. 

For example, global meat consumption has more than doubled since the 1960s, and meat production is set to double again by 2050. Americans, who enjoy their steaks and burgers, eat 3 times as much meat as the global average. Should they, and other western diners curb their appetites? Consider this: Livestock are responsible for 12% of man-made greenhouse-gas emissions, more than the entire aviation industry. (Although we should point out that airlines this year will pump 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

Most of livestock emissions comes from just one animal: the cow. Cattle are responsible for vastly more emissions than chickens and pigs, in part because their digestive systems produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. From a climate-change perspective, serving roast beef at dinner is like driving 100 miles in a car. But cattle don’t just produce gas; they also take up a lot of space. In Brazil, swaths of the Amazon have been cut down to make room for cattle ranches, releasing huge amounts of trapped carbon. Brazil is hardly alone: More than a quarter of the earth’s ice-free land has been set aside for grazing.

Most scientists agree that eating less meat would help to avert a worst-case climate scenario. If all the world swore off meat, it would cut global emissions by 8 gigatons a year —  the same as shutting down 2,000 coal-fired power plants.  Adopting the Mediterranean diet, which includes poultry but limits red meat, would have the same impact as driving 70 fewer miles each week. The “Meatless Mondays” movement, now active in 40 countries, commits followers to going vegetarian one day a week. The effects add up: Skipping a single quarter-pound hamburger can save more than 400 gallons of water and the energy it takes to power a smartphone for 6 months. Do it every week for a year, and the greenhouse-gas savings are equivalent to biking 1,000 miles instead of driving.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How many students would support a “Meatless Monday?”
  2.  Why is this an OM issue, and how can managers act to cut greenhouse gasses?

OM in the News: Getting Mac and Cheese to Mars

October 1, 2019

WSU’s mac and cheese

Washington State University scientists have developed a way to triple the shelf life of ready-to-eat macaroni and cheese, a development that could have benefits for everything from space travel to military use. If human beings go to Mars, they need food. Food that won’t spoil during the long travel between planets, and while they’re on the surface.

Currently, plastic packaging can keep food safe at room temperature for up to 12 months. The WSU researchers demonstrated they could keep ready-to-eat macaroni and cheese safe and edible with selected nutrients for up to 3 years. “We need a better barrier to keep oxygen away from the food and provide longer shelf-life similar to aluminum foil and plastic laminate pouches,” said the research team in WSU Insider (Sept. 24, 2019). “We’ve always been thinking of developing a product that can go to Mars, but with technology that can also benefit consumers here on Earth.”

In addition to having space travel in mind, the researchers are working closely with the U.S. Army, who want to improve their “Meals Ready to Eat” (MREs) to stay tasty and healthy for 3 years. In taste panels conducted by the Army, the mac and cheese, recently tested after 3 years of storage, was deemed just as good as the previous version that was stored for 9 months. NASA will require storage of up to 5 years for food, so that’s what the team is working on now. They are currently aging other recipes that will be taste tested once they reach the 5-year mark. When humans are involved and they travel over great distances spanning long periods of time, the supply and transport of fresh nourishment can present a significant challenge.

The food itself is sterilized using a process called the microwave-assisted thermal sterilization (MATS) system. Adding a metal oxide coating to a layer of the plastic film significantly increases the amount of time it takes for oxygen and other gases to break through.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What other OM applications could benefit from such technologies?
  2. What additional logistics challenges will need to be solved before humans can embark on a trip to Mars?