logistics

A while back and for an entire year, I did logistics for a third-of-a-million-square-foot plastic manufacturing plant in Tennessee. It looks like I may be returning soon to this field but in a decidedly-cooler sort of way.

Then

For that plant, I managed nearly every aspect of the company’s business: accounting, inventory, carriers, shipping/receiving, purchasing, documentation and labeling, systems design and management, website design and implementation, processes to improve productivity, you-name-it. Basically, I took over every aspect of my manager’s job except for welding and aluminum mold fabrication.

Daily, I drove a forklift and a pallet jack. I unloaded and loaded shipments. I climbed 60′ racks without any safety gear holding a clipboard in my teeth to do inventories. I mixed more tons of plastic by hand than I can remember, lifting each 30# bucket over and over again. With a forklift, I pulled replacement molds for the crew from inventory.

I ran a CNC machine to cut both plastic and wooden parts. I assembled pallets of parts, always optimizing so that the customer would pay the least for their order.

I drove a scissor-lift to 70′ to replace industrial-sized lightbulbs. I wired 120/240VAC circuits, sometimes three-phase. I repaired a CNC machine, the joystick control on the scissor-lift and the half-million dollar robotic ovens by Rotoline.

I swept the floors, I picked up and recycled parts dropped by the day crew, always being careful to remove anything from the floor which could puncture a tire. I drained water from the air lines. I both figuratively and literally put out fires.

I did color studies to make sure that the plastic was to specifications. I staged multi-truckload orders so that the correct several hundred pallets made it onto those trucks.

I maintained inventory levels for everything that went into these parts whether it was shrink-wrap, tape, labels, bolts, screws, raw plastic, colorants or the large cylinders of material which go into making foam. And yes, I manned a foam station at times.

I designed a layout and colors for the showroom floor and then stained its concrete to look like a beach. It turned out beautifully, btw. I could throw a roll of labels to the line crew at at distance of 40 yards and right into the hands of the intended receiver, saving all those steps and time.

I did cost accounting, determining that they were losing $6 each on their best-selling item. Across-the-board, I adjusted their prices and shipping quantities which actually resulted in happier customers.

In the span of just one year there, I doubled their sales, doubled the pallets shipped and most importantly, doubled their profits. Sixty thousand parts went out the door in 12 months.

Now

Today, it looks like I might be returning to this world in order to automate this same industry with technology. As a software developer in the IoT space, I’ll be challenged to deliver logistics solutions. Fortunately, I have the unique cross-experience of developer and logistics manager in one. I think I’ve got this one.

Academia

When I imagine the average college graduate tackling this same assignment, I have to just shake my head. How could the average college-trained engineer or MBA ever truly understand what it’s like to manage a warehouse and to manage supply chains?

In fact, I can’t even imagine the curriculum that could be crafted to take someone in a classroom setting alone and adequately prepare them for a task like this. Frankly, only back-breaking labor can prepare you for a task like this. Only existing in a warehouse day after day could prepare you for this.

Frankly, only back-breaking labor can prepare you for a task like this.

In my humble opinion, labor is missing from the academic path to success. And hard labor—the kind that can’t be accomplished in a business shirt—is the difference between success and failure in life.

Anyone with true experience in life, having personally sweated at a job is much less likely to create a business model which includes the exploitation of the labor of others. Could I ever expect someone in prison to make my products all day long for pennies? No, because I’ve actually worked for a living and I can empathize.

If you asked an MBA what it takes to maintain a plastic manufacturing plant, you can imagine that he/she wouldn’t know 1% of what I know about the same topic. And yet, as a society these people are highly-paid. Academia has lied by suggesting that you don’t need to know the details in order to succeed. And the only way to really know the details is to do the job itself.

Stepping back from all this

Every day we trust these big corporations to know what they’re doing, to behave in ways which are moral and to succeed without causing harm to others. The problem I see is that we are programmed to believe that only college graduates can and should run companies. As I hope to have demonstrated here, I don’t think there will ever be a way of teaching real-world skills in a classroom alone.

Assuming for a moment then that corporations are run by unprepared people, there are bound to be problems as a result of this. What I usually see in a college graduate is someone who sees the profitability and success from a perspective colored by their own optimism and ignorance of the actual world around them. They see the business through rose-colored glasses, in other words.

Perhaps it’s time that we stop putting so much faith in corporations and universities and more into the value of simple, hard work experience on the job somewhere. The only way to really know something is to live it.