Seven supply chain project ideas

Some students struggle to think of a concept for their research project. Here are a slew of different ideas, not necessarily to be pursued as-is, but to give an idea of how to scope a project, and as a springboard for additional concepts. (For these, the comments section is open, of course!) The seven items that follow are all topics that I’d like to see addressed, one of these days…

1. Personality Profiling of Supply Chain Professionals

The student would conduct a wide-ranging survey to identify personality type or preferred management style (for example, using Belbin’s Team Roles, Myers-Briggs Type Index or other methods), and survey participants to discover their job function, and ask what kinds of tasks they find most troublesome.

Are we extroverts, or introverts? Do we seek to avoid conflict? Are we better at specific details, or seeing the big picture? Do oil and gas industry logistics professionals think the same way as those in the electronics industry? I’d love to know.

2. The Bullwhip Effect in Reverse Logistics

This project will require the student to have access to a discrete-event simulation software tool, such as Arena or Simul-8. It will investigate whether returned product issues such as batching for logistic or economic reasons cause additional complications for a recycler/remanufacturer. Just how should you cope with unpredictable volumes of products being returned, when you’re trying to schedule manufacturing and remanufacturing operations alike?

3. Visions of the Future Supply Chain

The student would use scenario analysis to propose a series of either-or choices that describe possible future directions for the future of supply chains. For example, will ‘green’ issues dominate supplier selection, or will low price be the determining factor? Will companies seek greater vertical integration, or less? With a broad set of scenarios established, they will be used as the basis for an online survey, and supply chain professionals will be asked to participate. The result will be an industry-by-industry breakdown of the anticipated future evolution of supply chains, with analysis.

4. Understanding the Risks of Outsourcing: the case of the Boeing 787

Following difficulties with the Boeing 787, chief executive Jim Albagh said that they had outsourced too much. “We didn’t consider the extent of the risk we’d take on by going outside,” he told the Seattle Times. He went on to outline a number of things that must never be outsourced. Mike Bair, who in October 2007 lost his job as programme manager for the 787, had vowed that some suppliers would never again work with Boeing…

This project will examine academic literature, trade press and news sources to understand the difficulties that Boeing were experiencing, and will discuss them in the context of supply chain theory, as it appears in textbooks and papers, with the aim of identifying core principles for make-or-buy decisions in the aerospace industry.

5. Business Models for Product Return

What makes some products suitable for remanufacturing while others are hopeless? Products as diverse as photocopiers, excavators and single-use cameras are successfully remanufactured. Why not cars? Why not refridgerators?

This project would begin with a review of remanufacturing technologies and major operators, seeking to identify the reasons why remanufacturing works well in some sectors, and is less prevalent or non-existent in others. Building upon literature on the business model (e.g. Osterwalder, 2004) the student will identify the supply chain conditions and relationships necessary if products are to be returned a the end of life.

6. Development and Testing of a New Supply Chain Game

There are some great games that we use to teach the principles of Supply Chain Management, such as the Beer Game… but in an ideal world, there would be more. This project would seek to develop a novel game that illustrates a key supply chain principle. It should be simple enough for any adult to get to grips with it quickly, yet realistic enough to allow players to learn from it and reflect on their own behaviour. It might look at planning, procurement, operations, distribution or some other aspect of the subject. It could be software-based, but would probably be best if it were simpler than that. Its development would have a sound basis in game theory, and in the theory relating to the chosen supply chain principle, and the student would report and reflect upon trials of the new game.

7. Supply Chain Management in a Declining Market

Most supply chain literature looks at growth, but how well does this serve a company that operates in a declining market? The demand for desktop PCs, for example, is falling steadily, and is likely to continue to do so. How can a business survive and thrive in a market that is largely saturated, or shrinking? There is still profit to be made, if operations are efficient enough, and barriers to exiting the industry outright may be high… so what can a company do, and what problems can it expect in its supply network, as volumes fall? This project would seek to learn from historical sources and the experiences of manufacturers that intend to be the ‘last man standing’ in a declining industry, such as the manufacture of typewriters, or photographic film.

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