Work, so far....

Since May 21st, 2007, I have been working as an Industrial Engineering Intern for UPS, located just off West Oxmoor Road in Birmingham, Alabama. So far, it has been a pretty cool experience. UPS is very concerned with the efficiency of their operations, and almost all of the behind-the scenes-work, planning, and improvement projects are completed by Industrial Engineers, because as we know, IE's are efficiency experts. I am working under John Farren, the IE Manager for the Alabama District, and within his jurisdiction I am also working under John Rich in the Package Planning department.

I have completed four weeks of work, roughly 1/3 of my scheduled summer work. For the first week, I had to complete some compliance training courses with topics such as "Insider Trading" and "Sexual Harassment." These boring tasks took up most of the first 2 days of work. Throughout the first week, Christ Guest, the Package Planner for the Central Division of the Alabama district was showing us (me and the other Intern) around the building and getting us familiar with everything. We completed several tasks for him as well, such as planning the staffing levels and package volumes for the first quarter of 2008, as well as trying to help him determine the optimum level of stops-per-car a day for each truck (with the help of Excel graphing techniques). I also helped him created a form in Microsoft Excel for Division Managers to use in order to re-allocated their resources throughout their buildings.

At the start of Week #2, we were given the details of our first Project. UPS management is in the process of trying to implement what they call a "Miles per Gallon Initiative." The basis behind this is that if the trucks with the best fuel efficiency are placed on the longest routes, fuel will be saved, and this cause a decrease in operating costs. One would not think that this would produce any significant savings......but I quickly found otherwise. After some preliminary number crunching, UPS has the potential to incur nationwide savings of around $10 million.

The last 3 weeks (Weeks 2-4) have been spent working closely with David Posey (not sure what his official title is) on this project, trying to reallocated the trucks in the Birmingham building with the intent on saving fuel. We were given almost no guidance and a set of hardly workable data to start out with, but a significant amount of progress has been made. I will say that over the last month, my Microsoft Excel skills have probably doubled. I considered myself a fairly knowledgeable person in the area of Excel before UPS, but I have far exceeded my previous limits. As I previously mentioned, the data that we were given to start out with was in poor form, so much of the last 3 weeks was spent on getting the data into working form, and in the processing developing a standardized process in order to do it again more effectively.

We have been using a database called E-cars that has provided us with mileages for the different routes as well as the fuel efficiency of each truck. This database actually performs the optimizing routine that the project calls for, but in the process it proposes that 91% of the trucks should be switched. One thing that I have learned since my arrival at UPS is that a difference exists between formulation and implementation. I was reminded of a book I read in my junior Manufacturing Systems class entitled Necessary But Not Sufficient, authored by Eli Goldratt, a theory of constraints genius. The basic conclusion of this book is that formulating an answer to a certain problem (in any industry) is a necessary task, as success cannot be achieved without it. However, the answer to the problem is not sufficient, for the answer must be implemented into the given industry in order to achieve the success that was "discovered on paper." Implementation can often be hard, as it may require going against the norm and requiring workers to do things that they do not want to do. PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE CHANGE. This applies to pretty much any industry, when you have a worker that performs the same task every day, for years at a time. Anyways, using my skills in versatility (which every true IE possesses), I set it to optimize the optimizer.

The way that the E-cars MPG optimizer works is simple:

  1. Rank the routes by mileage (longest route gets a #1)
  2. Rank the trucks by efficiency (highest MPG gets a #1)
  3. Match the #1 with the #1.

These steps are completed for each truck size. About 8 truck sizes are used at the Birmingham building, so each set of truck sizes would be rearranged. What I found out was that after a while, the optimizer started to de-optimize itself. In other words, it might be better to only rank the top 10 or top 15 routes and trucks, and rearrange those to achieve the desired results (top 10 was found to produce the most savings). We created a form in Excel that somewhat mimicked the E-cars database, but allowed it to only rank the top 10 before rearranging. For a few days my brain was getting completed racked with all of the embedded "if" statements that I was working with. One of our calculations actually utilized the "if", "and", "offset","match", and "lookup" functions........CRAZY! It was times like these that I wished I knew Visual Basic, as this would have made things a little more easier.

Along with the MPG changes that were to be made, our boss also wanted us to examine truck utilization levels.........basically, to make sure that a truck wasn't only getting half full or over packed every day. Since management was convinced that some trucks were over utilized, we were faced with the task of talking to the Dispatch Supervisors: the guys that controlled the workers and trucks. As you can imagine, they were not too happy about the changes that management wanted to make, but they eventually lightened up. This part of the project was very minor in comparison to the other changes, but it had to be done.

We finished up the recommendations for the MPG initiative last Friday, and we are set to give a presentation to Stanley Garret, the Manager for the Central Division on Wednesday. The Central Division consists of the Birmingham building as well as buildings in Goodwater, Tuscaloosa, and Anniston. Our next task is to apply our developed techniques to the other buildings in the Alabama district besides Birmingham. The rest should go by pretty quick, as we have already developed some "standards", and I created a template for the optimizer that only requires the input of data from the E-cars database.

The formulation part of the project is over........but implementation lies ahead. I can only hope that building managers will be respective and accepting of our recommendations.......because they will save UPS millions!

Other projects for the summer include:

  • Analyzing the "smalls" package system and propose and justify improvements"smalls" are packages under 8 x 8 x 8 inchesthey are containerized in special bagsmany flaws exist in the current system
  • Improve the efficiency of feeders (tractor trailers), and determine standards for the routes of these feeders.not much work has been put into this areathey need help from IE's!

This has been a scaled down (haha) account of my work experience so far. Hopefully, our implementation will be successful, as well as any other work that I have to do this summer:)

1 comment:

Jordan said...

That job sounds awesome!