Not Really Back to the Future – Failed Supply Chain Predictions

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It’s October 21, 2015. Does the mere mention of that date get anyone else excited about the possibility of seeing Marty McFly and Doc emerge from the DeLorean? Today is officially the day the duo jump to in Back to the Future II to save McFly’s son. From self-drying jackets, to flying cars, and let’s not forget the hoover boards, Back to the Future promised a lot of things back in the day, and unfortunately, not all of them became real… at least not on a permanent basis. Pepsi and Universal films have both embraced the pop-culture phenomenon by releasing Pepsi Perfect and a trailer for Jaws 19, which were mentioned in the iconic ‘80s flick. Going down memory lane I found some ‘still-pending’ future promises related to supply chain and logistics. While lots of them have become a reality (MRP calculations in seconds? check!), here’s my take on what I would have expected to be common place today if you’d asked me 10 years ago (as I was nowhere near logistics back in 1985!) 1. RFID tags will become so cheap all milk cartons will have it We read radio-frequency identification (RFID) was the next best thing since sliced bread. Then it seemed as if RFID was dead. Then Walmart was going to finally make it happen! Now instead of on milk cartons, it’s sneaked into our wallets and passports via NFC (a subset of RFID). RFID is an example of a one size does not fit all. I might not be getting my milk carton RFIDed, but I’m sure the milk in it passed through a lot of RFID sensors, perhaps even one in the cow herself. In a way, I’m happy with the way it is now. Regular old milk cartoons seem to do the job, and I don’t have to worry about a high-tech dumpster diver digging through my recycle bin just to collect a big of market research data. 2. Smart Fridges (which of course will read milk cartons’ RFID tags to make sure we always have a fresh carton in stock) Fridges are not smart enough yet to do that I’m afraid, but there are a few manufacturers who have gone as far as actually installing cameras inside so you can look inside your fridge from your phone. Why would you ever need to do that? Maybe looking at your fridge from your phone will be the next big thing, you know, like selfies! My kids, on the other hand, would probably love that it means me not constantly telling them to shut the door to the fridge during the heat of the summer! 3. Food Replacement Pills, meant to provide all needed nutrients without all the calories (not to mention freight costs, or ‘smart fridges’) I thought these would help take us to Mars and beyond. Well, that looks like it’s still not going to happen any time soon, even with the recent discovery of flowing water. Popular Mechanics wrote about why these pills don’t exist yet, and wouldn’t you know it, we need the calories. There’s no escaping them, we just need to have the right amount, ideally matching our activity level. Sounds like a familiar concept, doesn’t it? 4. Going back to the Moon Just as my folks were the first generation to see a man in the moon, mine seems to be the first one that won’t get to see it happen again. It’s been more than 40 years since the last time man and moon connected. But what about Helium-3, or those other rare mineral we need so much? I’m sure there would be a market for a hotel there. 5. Self-Driven Trucks At least we’re getting close on this one. We’re still looking at years of testing, but some are already questioning the kind of technology these trucks will need to be considered safe on the highways (sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and LIDAR). Also, I think it’s fair to say we could expect a good amount of regulatory back and forth, as self-driven trucks could not just revolutionize logistics, but also wipe out countless jobs and even whole towns! One could argue being a truck driver is no longer a highly desirable occupation, as early year turnover figures show. I hope they don’t forget to add some automatic fuel stations to fill up all the self-driven trucks. I would love one of those during the wintertime! And while we’re at it, we probably could use some solar-to-hydrogen fuel as well. I don’t know about you, but after writing this piece I’m feeling very optimistic. Even after acknowledging the future might be very different from what we’ve all dreamed of it, it’s still pretty accurate to say “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Thanks for the encouraging words Eleanor Roosevelt.

Enough about my failed future predictions, I’d like to hear from you. What supply chain promises have you heard in the past that have yet to come true? Or let us know which ones you wish were true!



Ray Karaffa, CPIM
- October 23, 2015 at 2:33pm
Hi Alvaro,

Your supply chain blog was well written and very interesting. It is nice to hear the thoughts of a young person on the unfulfilled promises of the supply chain. You are also asking us to give our thoughts on what supply chain promises that we have heard in the past that have not yet come true.

You are a young man just starting out on your supply chain journey. Conversely, I am an older man who is towards the end of my supply chain journey. My supply chain journey began 42 years ago on the threshold of evolving the successful, manual production and inventory management systems of the day over to computerized Material Requirements Planning (MRP).

My supply chain journey began working with the successful, manual, production and inventory management systems and eventually progressed on up the computerized MRP. The manual system used back in the day used an Acme Visible card system with lots of clerks posting transactions to these cards, kicking them back to the Inventory Control Analyst (Shop Floor Scheduler), when the available balance became negative.

I can think of many unfulfilled promises of the supply chain but for brevity, I can only address two main ones. The first one is the proper scheduling to support the shop floor production build and not supplying good priorities on the shop floor resulting in an inaccurate procurement schedule since the buy part due dates are back scheduled from the manufacturing order start date. This manufacturing order start date is the vortex of your entire supply chain planning system. Everything revolves around the manufacturing order start date. It must be back scheduled with the proper lead time.
The schedule is basic and fundamental. That’s what you start out with. If the master production schedule is not accurate, doable and achievable, you are only lying to yourself and doing a poor job of priority planning.
The main expression used to back schedule these manufacturing order start dates back in the manual MRP days was Manufacturing Lead Time taken from the operations of the shop floor manufacturing routings. The process of computerizing MRP meant taking this expression (Fixed Lead Time + (Order Qty. * Variable Lead Time) and let the computer crunch those numbers rather than doing it manually. If you study for APICS certification, you will find out they are still touting using this expression taken from the production routings operations.
Somewhere in the 1980’s Marty McFly, became lazy and decided to default Variable Lead Time in his computerized MRPII system to zero (0) and go with one Fixed Manufacturing Lead Time (You won’t find anything in the APICS body of knowledge on this.) for all the manufacturing orders regardless of order quantity. This gives the same back scheduled, downward, Bill of Material lead time offset for a 10 piece manufacturing order as a 1,000 piece manufacturing order. This laziness totally screws your schedule. A screwed schedule sends supply chain professionals over to the “Dark Side”, from another 1980’s movie. The “Dark Side” I’m referring to here is “Order Launching and Expediting” instead of using the Force, meaning the Formal System.

The second major supply chain promise that has never been fulfilled is “Closing the Loop” on MRP. Closing the Loop means taking the accurate schedule being utilized by Master Production Schedulers, Engineering , Financial and Procurement personnel to Manufacturing on the shop floor. This completes the team approach and gets everyone working to the same exact schedule.

Capacity Requirements Planning (CRP) is the main instrument used for Closing the Loop on MRP. In my 42 years working in the supply chain, I haven’t seen any company who has closed the loop except for the two CRP implementations that I have been on. CRP takes that schedule to all of the work centers on the shop floor and gets Manufacturing working to the same schedule as the rest of the team. It also gives valuable feedback to the Master Production Schedulers so they can simulate and create the best doable, achievable schedule possible.

We have got to get Marty McFly back from the “Dark Side”, even if his father still wishes to remain there.
Alvaro Fernandez
- October 27, 2015 at 2:25pm
Hi Ray, thank you very much for your comment, you raised some very good points, and I think I agree with about the variable lead time. I had my share of manually adjusting work orders duration and using excel to create pseudo Gantt charts to justify those durations. For brevity, let’s just say Excel was a powerful force where I was. Good thing I’m in Kinaxis now, where I’d we have a few that could lift x-wings out of swaps :)
Ray Karaffa, CPIM
- October 27, 2015 at 3:40pm
Hi Alvaro,

Thanks for the reply. Yes, Excel becomes a powerful and much used tool once Variable Lead Time is defaulted to zero (0). Let's hope Kinaxis RapidResponse can defeat the Death Star!

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