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OM in the News: Data Analytics for Factories

June 5, 2020

A Norsk Hydro aluminium plant in Norway. The company’s CIO, called the availability of data during the pandemic “a clear game-changer.”

Manufacturers will be spending far more on data management and analytics tools in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, and will be using those tools for deeper insight into operations, sales and supply chain disruptions, reports The Wall Street Journal (June 3, 2020).

Data—produced by shop-floor scanners and other hardware tools—can now be used to more accurately measure and improve the performance of production-line machinery.  Such benefits are expected to spur annual spending by global manufacturers on data management and analytics to nearly $20 billion by 2026, up from $5 billion this year.

Advanced data tools will give factories a clearer view of operations and equipment performance, allowing them to speed up production, reduce waste, improve their product quality and avoid downtime by more quickly identifying maintenance issues, among other things. Factories will also be able to identify and extract relevant data sets to feed into artificial intelligence software designed to predict production and supply chain problems. “It’s a case of going from reactive analytics, reporting on what happened, to proactively analyzing what might happen and the suggested actions to take,” said one industry expert.

The pandemic has made manufacturers aware of the need for more sophisticated ways to monitor operations, especially when plants are accessible to only a handful of workers. “We’re working with clients on taking unprecedented amounts of data and deriving insights that can shift decision-making,” said the CIO of NTT Data Services, referring to streams coming from shop-floor sensors, machinery, supply-chain fleets and other systems. Manufacturers are using that data to get a better view of equipment performance and maintenance needs, quality control and workplace safety.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What is the difference between descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics (see Module G in your Heizer/Render/Munson OM text)?
  2. Which of these methods is discussed in this article? Why?

OM in the News: Postal Package Deliveries ‘Bogged Down’ With Delays, Backlogs

June 4, 2020

Surging e-commerce volumes during the coronavirus pandemic are straining the U.S. Postal Service’s parcel network as staffing shortages and backlogs in hard-hit areas slow deliveries, reports The Wall Street Journal (June 1, 2020). The problems have delayed some packages for days and even weeks, shippers and consumers say, holding up orders at a time when many people are shopping more online to avoid infection with the virus.

The slow deliveries have complicated business for e-commerce sellers who rely on the Postal Service to ship packages at affordable rates, and tracking services have added to the frustrations, with some items appearing to get stuck at certain locations or vanishing altogether. Transit times for USPS shipments to customers in some cases doubled or even tripled in recent weeks. Like private delivery giants UPS and FedEx, the Postal Service is coping with unexpected holiday-level package volumes as the pandemic adds to operational and financial stresses. UPS is imposing extra fees to help offset those costs, while FedEx is limiting the number of items some retailers can ship.

Coronavirus has also taken a toll on postal workers. About 2,830 of the Postal Service’s 630,000 employees have tested positive for Covid-19. Between April 19 and May 23, USPS delivered 89.5% of priority mail packages on time, compared with 87.4% the prior month. (UPS delivered 96.5% of business-to-consumer shipments on time that same period). “The parcel volumes have gone up, we are probably working at a holiday volume rate, but we’re doing it with about a 74% staffing level,” said a USPS union official.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1.  Why is the USPS struggling to keep up with competition?
  2.  What can be done to meet budget deficits?

Guest Post: Research on Student Perceptions of Online vs. Face-to-Face

June 2, 2020

Dr. Lynn A. Fish, who is Professor of Management at Canisius College, provides today’s Guest Post

Since 2012, Dr. Coral Snodgrass and I have been researching student perceptions of online versus face-to-face (FTF) education at Canisius College. Our most recent research focused on whether changes in business student perceptions had occurred. Our survey includes questions on individual factors (motivation, discipline, self-directed, independence, schedule flexibility, time investment, cost investment, happiness and appropriateness of online education), and program factors (difficulty, student-to-student interaction, student-to-instructor interaction, cheating and program preference). If administrators, who perceive FTF and online education as equivalent, are correct, then students should be indifferent to all education factors.

Our 2012 research indicated that business students preferred FTF over online education on most factors. And as of 2018, business students still generally preferred FTF. (See our article in The BRC Academy Journal of Education, 8, no. 1, 2020). However, changes occurred for the online student population from the original study with respect to their views on self-directed, time investment, and appropriateness of online. With respect to the FTF student population, changes in perspectives from the original study occurred for self-directed, preference and student-to-instructor interaction.

As noted in our prior studies, the context of the study (private versus public, large versus small, and program of study) may be a critical factor to consider in understanding student activity preferences. This study occurred at an institution usually taught through FTF courses to small classes (average 18-20 students). Online education at the institution occurs through decisions entirely made by the individual instructor, as no instructional designers are available.

Other institutions may deliver online and FTF education through other methods, such as using instructional designers or digitally-enhanced courses, and therefore students may perceive online and FTF education differently than here. Other studies demonstrate that research into student perceptions are ‘mixed’ as the results vary on each factor studied. There is no clear answer as to what students’ perceive and appears to vary between institutions.

Teaching Tip: Reaching Your On-Line Students

May 30, 2020

Teaching online well is harder than teaching face to face.  For some of you, it has meant learning new systems. For others, it has meant redesigning how we will engage the OM material. We are all challenged to find new ways of connecting with and keeping students engaged.

Students are struggling with the same mechanics we are; managing their workload in a new environment. Some of our students are feeling adrift. They have been struggling with the perception that their classes are now just independent studies, that some teachers have ceased teaching, and that we don’t care about them. This perception challenge is real. Here are a few suggestions borrowed from colleagues around the country: 

Ask Your Students What is Working We are using different formats for connecting with and engaging our students: MyOMLab, discussion forums, group activities, zoom, videos, email discussions, etc. Some of these work well for some classes and not so well with others. Ask your students how the different formats are working.

Engaging Students and Providing Brief but Frequent Communication Some profs have their students interact with class members or the whole class and make a point to communicate with them daily. If students fail to participate, you can reach out to them to find out what is going on. Ask how they are doing and if they need some help navigating the material. If they know that their participation is being noticed and matters, they will make more effort.

Creatively Connect with Students Have you tried offering zoom office hours or designating some time in zoom classes for social interaction. Or you can use lower tech versions following up with students via email and phone conversations. Students are losing out on all the positive social interaction they usually have with us in and out of class. Contact during social isolation is good for them and us too.

Guest Post: What This Danish Prof Learned Teaching OM Online

May 27, 2020

Dr. Steven Harrod is Associate Professor in the DTU Diplom Department at the Technical University of Denmark.

On March 12, 2020, all education at the Technical University of Denmark made an emergency conversion to online services. I was fairly lucky. I had a home office, and a high quality webcam. Many of my colleagues did not. One colleague used his white refrigerator as a whiteboard!

Ergonomics are a real problem, and it is really hard to keep eye contact when sitting close to multiple monitors with a webcam placed above. I would strongly recommend using a tripod-mounted camera, a gyroscopic mouse, and giving lectures from a standing position. Absolute luxury would be a green screen effect, weatherman style, where I would walk in front of the slides.

Online lectures are tiring, both for you and your students. It is hard to focus on a laptop screen for long periods, especially when the screen is cluttered with faces, chat window, and a shared presentation. It is absolutely critical that you plan a 15 minute coffee break within every hour.

Strongly consider replacing some of your live lectures with pre-recorded content. I estimate 30 minutes of scripted lesson is equal to an hour or more of live lecture. Use a quality video editing software (I recommend Camtasia). Budget about 1 hour of editing for every 10 minutes of produced video. YouTube is a great distribution channel.

You may feel that your students are not participating in the online lectures. Don’t panic! Encourage the use of chat for student questions and feedback, which many students will find more accessible.

Is this the future of education? I don’t think so. Who wants to pay tuition to watch 6 hours of Discovery Channel every day? However, when used as part of a planned and balanced mix of teaching methods, online education offers flexibility and a solution to unavoidable constraints. Next time I have to be away at a conference, I will just plug my laptop into the hotel flat screen, pull out my air mouse, and class will be in session!


OM in the News: The Rise of the Temperature Scanner

May 24, 2020

Infrared temperate cameras inside the Hankou train station in Wuhan, China.

A coronavirus-triggered rush for infrared cameras that identify people with elevated skin temperature is causing makers of the devices to beef up supply chains. The first wave of demand came in part from factories and health-care companies, but it has since expanded as companies and governments reimagine entertainment, athletics, transportation and education under the coronavirus. The cameras use orange and yellow hues to highlight people with higher skin temperatures without the close contact required by traditional thermometers.

Prices of infrared screening systems can range from $2,000 to $15,000 or higher. The fast-growing market for body-temperature scanners could exceed $1 billion in sales by year’s end, writes The Wall Street Journal (May 22, 2020). Businesses are turning to temperature checks as they plan to reopen and look to mitigate the risk of illness. Ford Motor deployed more than 380 infrared thermal-scanning systems across 100 facilities world-wide to provide an added layer of comfort for employees on top of other safety measures, including mandatory face masks. In addition to Ford, thermal scanners will be used by, among others, Las Vegas casino The Venetian, the PGA golf tour and the Baltimore Ravens’ training facilities.

U.S. officials are preparing to start checking passengers’ temperatures at roughly a dozen airports. The temperature scanners would likely be a mix of tripods that can screen multiple people at once and hand-held thermal devices. Evolving demand from customers is raising the complexity of systems. Instead of stand-alone thermal scanners, some firms want to connect them with existing closed-circuit television networks,, raising cybersecurity and privacy concerns. Requests from places like football stadiums pose another kind of challenge, with fans entering through an outdoor entrance where humidity and temperature aren’t controlled.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How might colleges use such scanners?
  2. Referring to Chapter 5 in your Heizer/Render/Munson OM text, what life cycle phase is the thermal scanner in?

Guest Post: Taking OM Online at Canisius College

May 21, 2020

Our Guest Post today comes from Dr. Lynn A. Fish, who is Professor of Management at Canisius College

The second week of March 2020 was a transitional week for my undergraduate Operations Management class at Canisius College, a private, Jesuit Catholic University in Buffalo, NY. I met face-to-face with my class on Thursday for the last time. The class used the Heizer/Render/Munson Operations Management textbook and Pearson’s MyOMlab for homework. I informed the class that if we needed to transition online, I would keep the ‘class as close to what they were accustomed to as possible and distributed the remaining handouts for the semester. Within days, the President of Canisius College announced that we would be going online immediately.

I kept my word as the class format remained as close to what the students had prior to the transition as possible. The class lectures were made into short videos and posted to our Desire2Learn platform. I reminded students that they needed to: (1) read the textbook, (2) use the class notes that I provided them along with the corresponding videos, (3) complete the corresponding MyOMlab homework that was assigned, and (4) study for the regular quizzes and exams.

The textbook and MyOMlab sites provided a stable framework for the students. I’ve always found that this is a sound undergraduate text which provides my students with current information.

My end-of-the-semester survey revealed that students had very few issues with using the MyOMLab site and rated the overall experience as “very good”. As an instructor, the randomization of the problems on MyOMlab enabled students to complete the same problems, but with different numbers. This feature allayed some of my fears regarding cheating on online quizzes and exams as I incorporated MyOMlab problems into these instead of stagnant problems on Desire2Learn. When final student grades were calculated, I was relieved to see that my students passed the course (65% average).