Only Limited by Your Imagination

By November 10, 2016Globalization

My first introduction to MRP was in 1983 at a small company where we had stamping, molding, machining, and assembly to make products for the aerospace industry.  I was a journeyman machinist and progressed into a manager’s position there. There was only about 75 people in fabrication, and we controlled our area with a daily list of items that needed to be worked on in a prioritized sequence.  We had shelves lined with bags of inserts and other kits of parts to either mold into sub-assemblies, modify, stamp out, or otherwise “add value” as it were.

One Monday morning I came in and there was no list.  I asked if anyone had seen it, and, “no they have not” was the reply.  This “work list” usually had 400-500 lines on it of past due backlog and future dated orders.  Not something easy to recreate by hand everyday.

I figured something was backed up so I went of to MIS (in those days).  I asked the MIS manager where my list was.  He said, “we’re having a little problem, we went live on MRP over the weekend”.  I said “what’s MRP”.  “A new planning program we’re having trouble with”.  (It was a small private company of 500 but I managed some critical departments.  I had not heard a thing about it.  See anything wrong?)  Being Mr. Flexible, I said “ok, can you just give me the old file.”   He looked a little downtrodden and spoke while looking at the floor “we deleted all those over the weekend.  We can’t get them back.”  He kept a stiff upper lip and said he wasn’t sure when he could…  I later found out that they had 2 of the ~80,000 FG part numbers in the system.  No routings.  No BOM’s, etc., etc.

I figured if people could write code on small computers I could too.  (CPM and MS-DOS we’re still battling for position.)  I bought a Tandy 1000; an original version of GW Basic, MS-DOS, and Dbase II.  They had good documentation, but it wasn’t like I could ask someone for a hand.  I didn’t know a single person that had a computer.  I drank a lot of coffee and coded a little shop floor input/output and priority system.  We filled out a form that recorded everything completed and everything new coming in. I took these home each day and produced a new list for the morning.

I was absolutely clueless about what was going on; and was receiving very little instructions on what to make and was getting 100 orders to make 1 or 2 each of different stampings.  I usually received orders of 5,000 – 10,000.  I was in the production control manager’s office many times until I was barred from it.

I asked the MIS guy if there were any books on this “MRP”.  He showed me 34 volumes (I think) of what turned out to be IBM MAPICS functional manuals.  They had great data dictionaries too!  I started reading book one like a novel and continued to read every volume at night.  (Later on I figured out this was an incredible education.) Of course I got a bit more insistent on giving the production control manager directions. That was fruitless so I started giving the MIS guy configurations and settings to change.  Long story short, 2 weeks later they asked me if I wanted his job.   I was now in materials management and never looked back. As someone from Ollie Wight’s organization (I think) said one time, it was “Organized Common Sense”.

I soon found out about APICS.  Read every book I could.  Got certified.  Even started teaching the classes at night.  I look back and realize my energy level never waned.  I was having a blast and it was only limited by our imaginations.

Now after working on the business side of supply chain for 18 years, and 15 years in supply chain consulting for Deloitte I like to think I’m somewhat versed on the subject.  With Deloitte I was encouraged to stay very current on what was going on in this arena.  But a couple years ago, after 31 years I wasn’t seeing too much that changed the basics.  Maybe MRP was called APO (which we are a strong user of).  Instead of it taking all weekend to run maybe we have SAP’s HANA to have it be real-time.

We have inventory optimization engines.  Multi-echelon planning and optimization.  Dual-Poisson for intermittent demand (which we could not get to run well on small systems before ~ 2000).  I attended and sometimes spoke at APICS, CSCMP, and other very good bodies of knowledge.  (And I am still a strong believer in their value.) But my viewpoint is that basically the fundamentals are still the same as it was in the early 70’s.  I could still teach junior colleagues today from books written in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  (Although the newer versions have new ancillary subjects and more current definitions.)

A few short years ago I didn’t really see anything game changing coming on the horizon.  And frankly, many companies are still having issues with the core. We even put in a cognitive engine for our seasonality patterns and I was still a bit short sighted about what could be.  We did however start building an analytics and data science team to build good decision support and to start building some predictive models around correlating cause and effect in fill rates; and other areas of the supply chain.

Then, Lora Cecere invited me to come to one of her Shaman’s Circle meetings and I found myself sitting with some of the leaders of the biggest supply chains in the world; P&G, Dow, J&J, Schneider Electric, Intel and more.  These were folks you don’t normally get to compare notes with.  And we did.  Lora also invited a very few, choice, outside companies to talk about what they were doing beyond the bleeding edge. I was amazed.  We were led through a series of constructive discussions that everyone had to participate in.  I was hearing about engines and processes that I had never heard of before.  This was all stuff that existed now, and we started seeing different combinations of solutions that I believe will dramatically change the landscape in the next few years.  I made some incredible contacts, collaborations have moved forward.

I’ve attended a couple of those meetings since and have received excellent new ideas each time.  We’re working on it back here “at the ranch”.  The insightfulness, solutions discussed, facilitation, AND, the attendees present have in my opinion been second to none.  (And I’ve been going to conferences a long time.)

I was privileged to give a presentation at the 2016 Supply Chain Insights Global Summit this year in Arizona.  There was even more folks of the same caliber at the conference and I took notes as fast as I could.  The discussions with peers was worth it by itself.  The presentations were great.  I myself couldn’t publish everything I spoke about at the conference for competitive reasons.  Others had the same issue, so you kind of have to be there to hear it all.

I don’t often recommend things outside of supply chain solutions (because there can be a lot of downside and not much upside) but if you’re like me, only limited by your imagination, and, ready to discuss and shape what’s coming at us. And do it with like minded colleagues from many of the largest companies, then attend  the Global Summit in 2017.  Volunteer to present on a topic. (I still have notepads left.)  I think you’ll find it well worth your time.

Keith Nash

About Keith Nash

Keith Nash is Vice President of Process & Technology for the Residential Business unit within Lennox International. Lennox Residential is a premier supplier of high quality, innovative product in the indoor air comfort and quality industry. The Lennox team has been on a continuous journey of expansion and excellence in their supply chain and customer fulfillment. The team has moved from a centralized supply chain structure to a hub-n-spoke network. This while more than tripling the number of Lennox stores, increasing Service Levels, while reducing logistics costs, and working capital. Lennox has put a machine learning engine into production to take the billion lines of seasonality data and automate seasonality clustering. Previous to Lennox, Mr. Nash was a Specialist Leader in the Strategy and Operations practice for Deloitte Consulting.

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