Viraj Lele is an accomplished expert in the field of Supply Chain Management, and he is currently applying this expertise at DHL, in the company’s Supply Chain department.
Lele’s work has saved the company approximately one million dollars thus far, and his work has been recognized by both academics and industry professionals.
The purpose of this interview with Lele was to discuss one of his many research papers related to supply chain and business operations logistics.
The paper in question, titled “Transportation Synchronization and Improvements for Distribution Centre and Retail Stores,” was published in the International Journal of Science and Research, Volume 5, Issue 5, in May of 2016.
The paper has received a fair bit of attention since publication, and as supply chain problems continue to echo through many different industries, both at home and abroad, the value of this research will only continue to grow.
Table of Contents
- Please introduce the premise of your paper, “Transportation Synchronization and
- Are the parameters and improvements discussed here relevant to supply chain issues across multiple industries?
- What was the reaction to the publication of this paper?
- Has this study or any of your other studies contributed to your current work with DHL?
- What’s your outlook on the ongoing supply chain difficulties around the globe?
Please introduce the premise of your paper, “Transportation Synchronization and
Improvements for Distribution Centre and Retail Stores.”
Transportation Decision-Making is an important part of supply chain management. The goal of this project was to study how to synchronize and improve the transportation at Academy
Sports and Outdoors between its 1.5 million square-feet central distribution center, located in Katy, Texas, and 200 retail stores, located across eighteen different US states.
DMAIC technology was used to execute this project. The team had completed the “Define” and “Measure” phase of DMAIC technology, but further analysis was needed to complete the “Analyze” and “Improve” phases of this project using the material and knowledge of supply chain management.
Can you explain the DMAIC procedure?
DMAIC is one of the lean six sigma concepts. It is a problem-solving approach consisting of Defining, Measuring, Analyzing, Improving, and Controlling as the five phases for improving process problems with unknown causes.
Defining involves defining the problem to be fixed. This phase includes the mapping of the process, focus, scope, and goal of the project. In some cases, process walks at the customer site are performed to refine the project focus and ensure they are aligned with the project and customer goals. I performed process walks at the client site in order to understand the actual scope of work that was to be performed before moving on to the Measuring phase.
The Measuring phase involves measuring the process in its current condition and collecting data. Understanding of the inputs which go into the process, the process itself, and the outcomes of the process. By gauging the outputs vs. the inputs provided, one outlines the failure modes. This helps in moving to the Analyzing phase.
The next step for me was to get the routing sorted for the 200 retail stores or develop it for some of the stores which were not a part of their existing routing. This information was acquired before I moved on to the Analyzing phase of my actual implementation.
Analyzing is the most important phase as it’s the actual analysis of what and why the problem exists and finding the missing or unknown cause of the problem. In this phase, one performs the root cause analysis which includes a wide range of techniques and methodologies to identify all problem areas, inefficiencies, flaws, and defects. Finally, it involves making an improvement plan.
I identified that the majority of the routes were not clearly defined and even optimization of the routing sequence was not in place for the stores. This led me to move towards sorting and sequencing the routes so that the transportation path was optimized for the carriers in covering 200 retail stores.
Once the cause of the problem(s) is determined in the Analyzing phase, the next step is to fix it by tackling the root causes. This is the phase where one refines countermeasure ideas, processes changes, and implements solutions. After implementing changes, data collection is imperative to see if improvement has occurred. A structured improvement leads to innovative and long-term changes which ameliorate the baseline measure and also the final customer’s satisfaction.
While working on this project, there were two gaps I identified, one being the routing sequence and providing an optimized routing plan for the customer. The other was identifying the packaging of the goods so as to increase the quantity being carried in each shipment carrier. As the initial routing plan for the customer was not properly defined, the newer plan gave noticeable results which led to the implementation of this project.
Are the parameters and improvements discussed here relevant to supply chain issues across multiple industries?
Most optimistically, the parameters and the improvements positively impact any transportation side of the supply chain industry, not just sporting goods but also the healthcare and medical industry, the food industry, customer goods, the fashion industry, etc.
One of the best approaches, used by logistics companies such as DHL and Amazon, is the use of their own labor, employees, and shipping carriers in moving freight from one place to the other. Routing sequences used by these companies guarantee the delivery of the product to the customers’ doorstep.
What was the reaction to the publication of this paper?
This paper has received 120 downloads, with monthly and weekly hits. Two of my other papers published in the same journal have a total of 315 downloads.
Dr. Chen, who was the course instructor for Supply Chain Management, expressed his appreciation towards my work for this project and the publication of this paper and also recommended me to the Industrial Engineering Department’s merit scholarship for my excellent academic contributions during my Master’s degree.
This publication was also appreciated by the Director of Operations at DHL Supply chain who also happens to be my manager at my current workplace. He said, “Viraj’s critical thinking abilities are impressive, showing dedication towards the work he performs and to the company. The results speak for themselves with his contribution to the supply chain field through the projects he has successfully implemented and the papers he has published.”
Has this study or any of your other studies contributed to your current work with DHL?
My past projects have majorly impacted my contributions at DHL Supply Chain. The root cause analysis methods from my first industry experience helped shape my problem-solving skills. The time study analysis helped save thousands of dollars at DHL where I used line balancing to improve our wrap-staging operations.
Overall, this project and other projects from different stages of my career helped me achieve an overall cost savings of about one million dollars at DHL Supply Chain in a span of fewer than two years. Optimizing the different onsite processes, managing labor, and eliminating waste are some other things I’m working on, and I’m counting on many more cost-saving projects in the years to come.
What’s your outlook on the ongoing supply chain difficulties around the globe?
Global supply chains have been pushed to the brink, especially in the last two years from the onset of COVID-19, revealing the imperfections in a system that impacts everything from oil and gas to toilet paper.
The most important trigger has been a surge in demand for goods as a result of record stimulus programs and a sharp move in spending from services to customer durables. This is expected to evolve in the coming months as demand and supply imbalance continues to ripple through different product segments. One of the areas it can affect is the transportation industry, with transportation costs remaining high. The current situation in Europe has created a transportation bottleneck.
That’s where I think the use of such strategies as highlighted above would help alleviate tensions, at least in the transportation industry. The use of route optimization methods and working on packaging technologies can help lessen this burden on the last-mile delivery of supply chains.