Skip to content

Teaching Tip: Engaging Your On-Line Students

August 17, 2017

Teaching online is a unique experience for faculty and students. One of those challenges is how to engage online students in activities that push them to go beyond simply reading, interpreting, and interacting. As such, we are constantly seeking ways to engage students in learning that goes beyond the “click-through” material. Here are two ideas from Faculty Focus (Aug. 14, 2017):

Scaffolding the Recording Experience. To effectively engage in online learning that involves interactivity, students need to develop a sense of technology competence. While most tech-savvy students have no problems jumping right in, others may need a scaffolded approach to engaging in online interactivity.
Most LMS platforms allow for the submission of video and audio files to a drop-box, assignment submission folder, or other location for grading within the course. Rather than asking students to record and post a video, you could craft scaffolded assignments that promote real-time connectedness. For the first assignment, you could leverage Instant Messaging (IM) by asking students to work in pairs, sending messages back and forth in a “text-only” interactive session.  Next, students could collaborate using the synchronous video option either provided by your LMS or by a third party (e.g. Skype and Adobe Connect) and submit this work for feedback.

Case Studies. The general procedure of popular case studies is to supply the case and ask the student to respond by answering questions based on the text material. With the addition of technologies like Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline (or others), you can prompt students to take actions to move the story forward, select response options with variable feedback, and participate in a way that adds a visual component to the experience. Although somewhat labor intensive, these activities can be used in nearly any LMS and can be reused, edited, and revised as needed. This allows for case studies to presented in a way that calls for interactivity and that is represented in a way that visual cues and information can be displayed to students. Students perceive the experience as a more real-life activity rather than an academic exercise.


OM in the News: The Incentives Needed to Land an Auto Factory

August 14, 2017

Toyota and Mazda’s CEOs make the announcement

Toyota and Mazda’s recent announcement that they have joined together to develop a $1.6 billion factory in the U.S. set off cheers among auto-parts manufacturers and other businesses. But officials in the states and cities that are in hot pursuit of the 1,000 acre plant are holding off on celebrating until the venture makes the critical decision of where to locate the facility and 4,000 jobs. The shortlist includes: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, N. Carolina, S. Carolina and Texas.

Foreign automobile manufacturers have been making cars in the U.S. for more than 30 years, writes The Wall Street Journal (Aug.9, 2017). The southeast has become the preferred location for many because of the business-friendly labor laws of many of the region’s states. Suppliers set up facilities near some of the region’s early plants, like the BMW factory in S. Carolina. “The assembly operations are saying we want suppliers close by,” said a site location expert. “When Toyota comes into a market, they’ll already be there.”

The Toyota-Mazda venture is likely to make its decision in part based on labor force and government incentives. Over the years, state and local governments have provided foreign auto makers a wide range of tax breaks, free land, infrastructure, training programs and other inducements that can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Toyota and Mazda are hoping to open the new plant, which will have an estimated production capacity of 300,000 units, in 2021.

Classroom discussion questions:
1. What incentives are usually offered auto manufacturers?

2. List the many factors that auto manufacturers consider in their location decisions.


OM in the News: What Robots Can’t Do

August 11, 2017

Most of our blogs about robots extol their cost-saving virtues and the explosion of new and exciting OM applications. “But on the front line of automation, where robots truly are poised to displace humans from their jobs, some cutting-edge technology is testing the best minds in Japanese industry,” writes The Financial Times (Aug. 7, 2017).

Making a bento — little portions of rice, fish, meat, pickles and other delicacies packed in a plastic box and sold for a few hundred yen — is currently a miserable job done by hand on grim midnight production lines, so that Tokyo stores can be filled with lunches by the morning. Tofu or vegetables are soft and irregularly shaped, and are extremely hard to grasp. “There are so many things that robots still can’t do,” says a Japanese robotics manufacturer.

It also takes a lot of people, time and money to get robots working. The engineering can cost 3 to 8 times, sometimes even 20 times, more than the hardware. “The simplest thing we cannot do is exert large force,” says the head of robot maker Yaskawa. “An Olympic weightlifter can lift several times their own body weight, but for every kilogram you move with a robot, the robot will weigh 10kg.” Pound for pound, then, even the average human is 10 times stronger than a factory robot.

Finally, a major challenge is agility. Most robots are single-handed. “We can make the arm but we can’t really make the hand,” says one manufacturer. That lack of agility is linked to one of the biggest practical problems with factory robots: the difficulty of reprogramming them to do something else. There was a time when firms tried to go to full automation on auto assembly lines, but it didn’t work because the vehicle changes. If you wanted the same model in the same color for 10 years you could fully automate it. But, of course, it wouldn’t sell.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Summarize all the limitations of robots?
  2. What is the trend for robotic installations?







OM in the News: Score One for Hydrogen

August 9, 2017

Fuel-cell-powered warehouse forklifts gaining on electric

Ever since a Swiss inventor named François Isaac de Rivaz built the first hydrogen-powered automobile in 1808, inventors and futurists have pinned their dreams and fortunes on the clean technology that converts water to energy. But hydrogen never caught on as a fuel, mainly because of its relatively high costs.

“Now, thanks to the thriving warehouse networks of online and big-box retailers, hydrogen has found a place inside growing fleets of forklifts,” reports Businessweek (Aug. 7, 2017). The numbers work out: Although a forklift outfitted with a hydrogen fuel-cell pack costs up to $58,000 — about twice as much as one with a standard lead-acid battery — hydrogen models are 10% cheaper over the 10-year life span of an average forklift. That’s because they can be charged in minutes instead of hours, eliminating the labor cost of charging batteries, freeing up warehouse space and keeping goods flowing around the clock.

Fewer than 3% of the 600,000 forklifts used in U.S. warehouses run on hydrogen, but that number is growing. Amazon recently agreed to try out the technology in forklift fleets at 10 of its warehouses. And last month, Wal-Mart matched Amazon’s $600 million deal, committing to double, to 58, the number of its warehouses that use forklifts running on hydrogen cells.

Fuel-cell companies are also pushing beyond forklifts, using hydrogen to power buses, delivery trucks and drone aircraft. In each of those markets, the vehicles return to a central depot for refueling, eliminating the need for a sprawling network of hydrogen stations.

If you are covering Supplement 5, Sustainability in the Supply Chain, this is a perfect real life example to illustrate Life Cycle Ownership (see Example S2).

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How can the operations manager decide which forklift is the best choice?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen-powered vehicles?


OM in the News: The Rise of the Collaborative Robot

August 7, 2017

Locus Robotics makes a type of collaborative robot that is designed to work with humans.

“In the battle of humans versus machine on the warehouse floor, some companies have found common ground,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 4, 2017). Instead of developing technology to completely replace manpower, the firms are designing robots meant to work alongside people. These robots, for example, can guide workers to items to be picked or can transport goods across a warehouse to be packed and shipped. Known as “collaborative” robots, they are small and relatively cheap—costing tens of thousands of dollars—compared with miles of conveyor belts and automation systems that run into the tens of millions. Many collaborative robots resemble motorized platforms fitted with shelves and touch screens. They use sensors to navigate past people and forklifts.

The new robots are designed with the majority of warehouses world-wide in mind, where orders continue to be fulfilled manually by people pushing carts up and down aisles. Robotics firms pitch them as a way to help people work faster and boost productivity during busy times, such as the holidays, when extra labor is harder to find. (Surging online sales and a tight labor market have made it more difficult and expensive to fill warehouse jobs.) For example, the robots can slash the number of steps workers take to fulfill an order. But they don’t grab objects off shelves, a task that is simple for humans but tricky to automate, though developers are getting close.

Such robots aren’t yet widespread compared to more-established technologies, like the shelf-moving robots developed in the mid-2000s by Kiva Systems, which Amazon bought in 2012. But collaborative robot’s lower price point could speed adoption.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Can robots completely take over warehouse fulfillment in the next few years?
  2. What is the difference between a collaborative robot and a Kiva robot?

Good OM Reading: Faster, Higher, Farther–The Volkswagen Scandal

August 4, 2017

Two years ago, Volkswagen proudly reached its goal of surpassing Toyota as the world’s largest automaker. But in Fall 2015, the EPA disclosed that VW had installed software in 11 million cars that deceived emissions-testing mechanisms. By early 2017, VW had settled with U.S. regulators and car owners for $22 billion, with additional lawsuits still looming. In Faster, Higher, Farther, New York Times reporter Jack Ewing details the conspiracy. He describes VW’s rise from “the people’s car” during the Nazi era to one of Germany’s most prestigious and important global brands, touted for being “green.” The first half of the book is the story of VW, the legendary creation of the Beetle by the Nazis, and the car’s role as a counterculture icon during the 1960s.

Ewing then portrays VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch and CEO Martin Winterkorn. The author argues that the corporate culture they fostered drove employees, working feverishly in pursuit of impossible sales targets, to illegal methods. Within a year of taking over, Winterkorn had announced a plan for VW to attain “world domination.” His diesel fuel and a “clean diesel” marketing campaign became vital components of this strategy. Although diesel leads to fuel efficiency, it also leads to high toxic emissions. Unable to build cars that could meet emissions standards honestly, engineers were left with no choice but to cheat. VW then compounded the fraud by spending millions marketing this clean diesel.

In 2013, the lie was first exposed by a handful of student researchers on a shoestring budget at West Virginia University who tested the fuel emissions of a diesel Passat, a diesel Jetta and a diesel BMW. The vehicles passed EPA standards when tested in a controlled lab-setting. But when the cars were tested in a non-lab setting, the Passat and Jetta exhibited nitrogen oxide emissions that were off the charts. As we know, this led eventually to the guilty plea to criminal charges in a landmark Department of Justice case.

In dealing with ethics of OM, here is a global company whose deceit half destroyed it–and the story is not finished.

OM in the News: Outsourced Jobs to India May Now Go To Indiana

August 2, 2017

For years, American companies have been saving money by “offshoring” jobs — hiring people in India and other distant cubicle farms. “Today,” writes The New York Times (July 31, 2017), “some of those jobs are being outsourced again — in the U.S.” Salaries have risen in places like South Asia, making outsourcing there less of a bargain. (A decade ago an American software developer cost 5-7 times as much as an Indian developer. Now the gap has shrunk to 2 times). In addition, as brands pour energy and money into their websites and mobile apps, more of them are deciding that there is value in having developers on the same continent.

Many of these domestic outsourcers are private, little-known companies, but IBM, one of the foremost champions of the offshore outsourcing model, has announced plans to hire 25,000 more workers in the U.S. over the next 4 years. As a result, the growth of offshore software work is slowing, to nearly half the pace of recent years.

“The nature of work is changing,” said the CEO of Infosys, the Indian outsourcing giant. “It is very local. And you often need whole teams locally. It’s not enough to have people offshore in India.” This is a departure from the offshore formula of having a project manager on-site but the work done abroad. Infosys just announced plans to hire 10,000 workers in the U.S. over the next 2 years, starting with centers in Indiana and North Carolina.

In the 1990s, the internet allowed tasks like payroll and financial reporting work to be sent to low-wage nations, especially India. That brought the rise of the big outsourcing companies like Tata and Infosys, which still excel at maintaining the software that runs back-office systems.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How has the outsourcing model changed?
  2. List the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing abroad.
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