Skip to content

OM in the News: TSA Turns to OM, and Improves Queue Times

July 24, 2016
HIDE CAPTION Peak wait times measured by airport officials at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, pictured May 16, fell from 105 minutes in early May to just nine minutes in the two weeks before the Fourth of July

Peak wait times at Chicago O’Hare Airport fell from 105 minutes in May to just 9 minutes in late June

After hours long lines at some airports and public outrage over stranded passengers, the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just pulled off a major restructuring, dramatically reducing wait times even as summer air travel surged to record levels. Nationally, over the 4th of July, wait times averaged 10 minutes and PreCheck lines averaged 5 minutes.

“How TSA dug out of its checkpoint quagmire is both a remarkable story of rare, quick change inside a big government agency,” writes the Wall Street Journal (July 21, 2016)–and it all involved a series of basic OM analyses that your students could have developed. Here are some of the TSA changes:

  1. Put more agents on passenger screening checkpoints.
  2. Provided a barrel to dump out water bottles before they went through X-ray machines and brought screening to a halt.
  3. Added 600 contract workers to move bins and direct passengers so TSA screeners (who used to do that) could go back to screening and open more lanes.
  4. Created a maintenance desk in each command center to quickly dispatch techs instead of the old process of writing a repair ticket and waiting.
  5. Summer vacations for screeners were limited; nonessential training was deferred.
  6. Slightly increased the number of people selected to get PreCheck printed on boarding passes.
  7. Created a Central Command Center which hosts daily conference calls with local directors, airports and airlines. Here they share best practices and coordinate efforts, shifting staff at airports with multiple terminals and regions with multiple airports as needed.

“We completely changed the way we operate,” said TSA’s administrator.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Can students expand this list with more suggestions?
  2. What will happen in Fall, when short-term fixes like overtime, delayed vacations and training, etc., dissolve?

Guest Post: Total Team Collaborative Learning in OM at Texas Tech U.

July 20, 2016


Our Guest Post comes from Phillip Flamm, who teaches Operations Management in the ISQS Department at Texas Tech University

I have taught Operations Management, using the Heizer/Render/Munson text, for four summers now, with the following course guidelines:

  • Using power point pages with 3 slides per page and lines for notes to the right, teams reviewed notes together following lectures to clean up any questions. Lecture review is compounded daily by adding the new lecture material and begins again after an exam
  • Worked daily quizzes together for a team grade
  • Prepared quantitative teaching sessions during the summer class
  • Calculated quantitative problems together for a team grade

Exam grades for these summer teams were considerably higher than scores in my regular Fall and Spring semester classes (average 89% compared to 64% regular class average).  This Total Team Collaborative Learning (TTCL) improved student performance in the summer setting.

So, what does this mean? It appears that TTCL tends to improve learning, retention, and analytical abilities. I would really like to find a certain format that would help all students learn more, learn faster, and perform better. I think that selecting and training section leaders to be more proactive when it comes to individual performance and integration into the team environment are the keys.

In the Fall, the business school has a new classroom with video equipment at each table. This could be used to train leaders and focus group members and I will continue to experiment with TTCL.


In Memorium: Prof. Howard Raiffa

July 19, 2016

raiffaProfessor Howard Raiffa, a co-founder of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a member of Harvard’s business school faculty for 37 years, passed away last week at age 92. Younger academics in our field may not remember Prof. Raiffa, but he was recognized as the founder of the field we call decision science. His original work encompassed negotiating techniques, conflict resolution, risk analysis and game theory.

Raiffa was an innovative theoretician, but he applied his ideas to real-world cases of conflict, cooperation and compromise in planning curricula, publishing guidebooks and making videos. He was also the founding director, in 1972, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a joint U.S.-Soviet organization that explored energy, pollution and other issues as a cooperative venture during the Cold War.raiffa2
    Among his 11 books were Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey, Applied Statistical Decision Theory (which I studied from in grad school), The Art and Science of Negotiation, Decision Analysis, and Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. 
    The best practical advice, Professor Raiffa wrote, is “to maximize your expected payoff, which is the sum of all payoffs multiplied by probabilities.” He explained that “the art of compromise centers on the willingness to give up something in order to get something else in return.” Raiffa’s negotiation analysis course became one of the most popular at Harvard. In it, his thrust was not simply “how to win,” but how to create joint value.

OM in the News: Boeing and Airbus Shift to Automated Assembly

July 15, 2016
A Boeing 777 assembly line at the company’s Everett, Wash., production facility

A Boeing 777 assembly line at the company’s Everett, Wash., production facility

The world’s biggest plane makers are digging deep into the technology toolbox to deliver what they have promised will be an unprecedented boost in airliner production. Boeing and Airbus have racked up record orders over the past several years, thanks to booming demand from global airlines. “Now,” writes The Wall Street Journal (July 9-10, 2016), “they have to deliver all those planes.” To meet the challenge, they are increasingly relying on robots, drones and human workers who wear powered exoskeletons to help them ramp up production in what industry executives say is the aerospace industry’s largest-ever peacetime expansion.

The same march toward automation is sweeping across the manufacturing sector. But for Boeing and Airbus, the sense of urgency is heightened by years of promises made to new customers. The two intend to build 33% more each year by 2020, or around 1,800 planes. Until recently both companies made jetliners largely by hand; but they are learning from the high-volume automotive industry. New production technologies that plane makers are putting in place will help accelerate productivity gains.

Boeing’s new 1.3 million-square-foot Washington facility hosts high-speed robots that lay carbon-fiber tape and automated vehicles that ferry wing components around the factory. Airbus is putting a more automated assembly line in place as it seeks to raise production of its A-320 model to 60 a month in 2019 from the current 45 planes Their facility features automated moving platforms to carry the planes through the assembly process, laser measuring tools to better align components, and adjustable-height robots to drill more than 2,000 holes. Where manual labor is still required, Airbus has started using drones for external inspections of planes, and it has devised a mechanical exoskeleton to boost the strength of workers who bore holes so they can more easily lift the 12-kilogram drill required for the job. The device can also help retain aging but skilled employees.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why is the airplane industry now looking to the auto industry for change?
  2. Why were planes largely made by hand to this point?


OM in the News: GM’s Bionic Factory Workers

July 11, 2016
GM worker wearing RoboGlove with Robonaut 2.

GM worker wearing RoboGlove with Robonaut 2.

General Motors builds a lot of cars. Last year, the company sold more than 3 million cars, trucks, and SUVs just in the US. “As a result,” writes Business Insider (July 7, 2016), “the company is constantly on the look out for ways to make the manufacturing process more efficient.” This week, GM announced that its workers will test out a battery-powered, force-multiplying robotic glove using technology the automaker and NASA developed for use on the International Space Station.

The high-tech glove features a series of sensors, actuators, and tendons that are designed to mimic the dexterity of the human hand, but with amplified gripping force. According to GM, the robotic glove will reduce fatigue for workers engaged in repetitive motions.

The technology — called RoboGlove— was created as part of a 9-year partnership between NASA and GM which culminated in the 2011 launch into space of a humanoid robot called Robonaut 2.  “The RoboGlove can reduce the amount of force that a worker needs to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions,” says GM’s Global Manufacturing Engineering VP. Once the production version of the glove is ready, GM announced that it will be the first manufacturing customer to adopt the concept in the US. In addition to manufacturing, GM believes the technology can be adapted for health care and other industrial applications.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What else is being automated in GM and other car maker plants?
  2. Identify some health care applications for the RoboGlove.

Teaching Tip: How to Get Your OM Students to Participate More

July 8, 2016

teacherWhat can we as teachers do to better promote student engagement? Here are a few ideas I extracted from Faculty Focus (June 29, 2016):

Redefine participation. Invite students to contribute electronically—with an email or post on the course website—with a question they didn’t ask in class, a comment they didn’t get to make, or a thought that came to them after class.

Cultivate a presence that invites engagement. An engaging teaching presence is communicated by behaviors that convey confidence, comfort, anticipation, and great expectations. The classroom space, whether it’s physical or virtual, is one you share. Move about in it. See who’s in class. Smile, extend a greeting, or comment on one of our recent OM in the News  blogs.

Talk about why learning is important. This is not the same old lecture about how OM is such a hard course. Most students haven’t yet fallen in love with learning. They think they like easy learning, memorizing bits of information, or getting by doing the bare minimum. Let yours be the class that introduces students to learning that captivates their attention, arouses their curiosity, stretches their minds, and makes them feel accomplished.

Give students a stake in the process. We make all the decisions about learning for students. We decide what students will learn, the pace, the conditions, and whether students have learned it. You can give students some control. Let them start making small decisions—what topics they want discussed in the exam review session, whether quizzes will count 10% or 20% of their grade, whether their final project is a paper or a presentation—and watch what happens to their engagement.

Use cumulative quizzes and exams. For long-term retention of course content, student exposure to the material needs to be ongoing. Every time they retrieve what they’ve learned, that material becomes easier to remember. Students would, of course, rather have unit exams. We can help students prepare for cumulative exams by scheduling regular quizzes (and MyOMLab is perfect for this).

OM in the News: Beyond Kiva–How Amazon Triggered a Robotic Arms Race

July 4, 2016

kiva“An Amazon warehouse is a flurry of activity,” writes Industry Week (June 29, 2016). Workers jog around a man-made cavern plopping items into yellow and black crates. Towering hydraulic arms lift heavy boxes toward the rafters. And an army of stubby orange robots slide along the floor like giant hockey pucks, piled high with towers of consumer products.

Those are Kiva robots, once the marvel of warehouses everywhere. But Amazon whipped out its wallet and threw down $775 million to purchase Kiva in 2012. The acquisition effectively gave the firm command of an entire industry. And it decided to use the robots for Amazon and Amazon alone, ending the sale of Kiva’s products to competitors that had come to rely on them. As contracts expired, they had to find other options to keep up with an ever-increasing consumer need for speed. The only problem was that there were no other options. Kiva was pretty much it. The world’s biggest retailers, including Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and Target, have yet to populate their warehouses with widespread robotic systems. They rely on the old method humans: Hordes of pickers and packers who send boxes down conveyor belts.

It has taken 4 years, but a handful of startups are finally ready to compete with Kiva and equip the world’s warehouses with new robotics.  Meanwhile, Amazon has about 30,000 Kiva robots at its warehouses across the globe, which has reduced operating expenses by about 20%. Adding them to one new warehouse saves $22 million in fulfillment expenses. Bringing the Kivas to the 100 or so distribution centers that still haven’t implemented them will save Amazon a further $2.5 billion.

About half the 856,000 U.S. warehouse laborers slog away on simple, arduous tasks that involve moving stuff around. It’s strenuous work, with employees often walking more than 12 miles a day. As new robots become available, particularly to e-commerce warehouses, these jobs will be at risk.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Discuss Amazon CEO Bezos’ decision to buy Kiva.

2. Why are robots so important to warehouse operations?


Supply Chain Management Research

Andreas Wieland’s supply chain management blog for academics and managers

better operations

Thoughts on continuous improvement: from TPS to XPS


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 537 other followers