MIT Supply Chain Management and Logistics graduate students recently exhibited their projects in a Research Expo held at MIT Media Lab. This blog highlights the Research Expo 2014 and some of the key topics that students and MIT professors are exploring to solve some of the most pressing supply chain challenges today.
On January 22nd, I attended the MIT Global Scale Network's Research Expo 2014, held at the venerable MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, incidentally the birthplace of 3D printing. Given the pedigree of the location, there were in fact several projects and an exhibitor that demonstrated the practical applications of 3D printing in manufacturing supply chains. But, there were also a plethora of other topics students addressed in their projects that span the supply chain. More than 80 e-Posters, flanked by their creators, demonstrated not only the global nature of today's extended supply chains, but also some of the key problems today's global companies are experiencing. Many of the students are currently working inside the global companies for which they have developed these supply chain projects. Below are several of my favorites, which reflect some of the themes throughout the event:
- Improved inventory management through various techniques including postponement, identification of decoupling points, and direct to store was a popular topic. Given that most manufacturers are keenly focused on reducing costs, a repeat winner on our annual IDC vertical industry survey, it would make sense that seeking innovative ways to optimize the amount of inventory locked up across a supply chain is a noble endeavor. I was intrigued by one project that focused on adding postponement nodes within the company's distribution network at strategic locations to facilitate the right-time delivery of product to various end-points. These postponement holding-areas were ultimately intended to focus inventory in pockets that were best aligned with demand, reducing the need for safety stock levels arbitrarily across all nodes in the network.
- Demand Planning was a hot topic at the competition. This came as no surprise to me, as my colleague Simon Ellis and I have been entrenched in demand planning and sensing research this past year, responding to a number of manufacturers' queries on the technologies available with an IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Manufacturing Supply Chain Demand Sensing and Planning 2013 Vendor Assessmentpublished several months back. Many of the e-posters referenced data analytics approaches to demand planning, and it was interesting to see approaches that did not use packaged software applications. Clearly, the most important aspects of demand planning are access to data, and the proper tools to achieve visibility and draw actionable insights.
- Logistics and transportation were very well represented, namely because the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics was the sponsor of the Cambridge, MA event. Most interesting among this subset of projects were the attempts to solve the "last mile" problem that exists in many of the emerging "Megacities" in the world. For those interested in learning more about what constitutes a Megacity, this link will take you to a fabulous tool that documents the rise of various megacities and what the future brings. Essentially, these megacities (defined as 'urban agglomerations' with over 10 million residents) are the future of growth and expansion for many manufactured goods, from infrastructure materials and equipment to consumer products, over the next decades. Popular in some of these emerging market megacities like Mexico City and Bejing, are "nanostores" which are essentially mobile convenience stores attached to bicycles. To reach this channel, manufacturers of consumer goods from packaged snacks to soda are creating mobile warehouses by taking ownership of their delivery trucks and leveraging GPS tracking, mobile devices, and e-commerce to manage logistics and fulfillment of this increasingly valuable distribution channel. This solution to a significant problem for manufacturers demonstrates the way third-platform technologies are causing disruptive business models to emerge.
There were many other valuable supply chain topics that were addressed with a fresh set of eyes by students, and it is encouraging to see the various approaches that supply chain professionals are making within their global organizations to solve today's most pressing challenges and capitalize on the greatest market opportunities. It will be worthwhile to continue to see how these projects progress within their organizations and the impact technology makes on supply chains across manufacturing industries.