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Darla Moore School of Business

Industry Summit showcases operations and supply chain students’ ability to understand complex processes, analyze data and provide solutions

Dec. 16, 2019

Moore School operations and supply chain students gathered with representatives from 11 companies for the twice-annual Industry Summit in December to share the results of their capstone consulting projects.

The students spent the fall semester working with industry partners on their projects to improve certain processes within the companies. Most student groups focus on implementing cost-saving measures and/or fixing inefficiencies in one area of the company.

The groups gathered at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center to showcase their work, including highlighting the problem they were asked to solve, their approach and methods as well as their outcomes. This was the 19th industry summit the Moore School has hosted for students and companies since spring 2008.

“For the operations and supply chain capstone consulting projects, the companies have the opportunity to work with students and get a firsthand opportunity to hire our students,” said Giuliano Marodin, clinical assistant professor for the Operations and Supply Chain Center and management science department. “They help us develop our program as a whole, and with the results of their projects, they get to use real cutting-edge solutions for front-burner projects and see an improvement of their process and achieve better performance.”

Marodin was the faculty advisor for a team of students working with Alpek Polyester to strategize a more efficient rail-yard plan for the company that produces, markets and sells petrochemicals, including polyester, plastics and commercial chemicals. Focused on their Gaston, South Carolina, facility, Alpek Polyester needed to figure out how to better manage the rail-yard that most cost-effectively can run 650 cars, said Alfredo Carrasco, director of procurement and logistics for the Alpek Polyester facility in Gaston. This was the first capstone consulting project Alpek Polyester has partnered on with the Moore School.

The capstone consulting project “is benefiting us already, providing us the tools to develop and see on a day-to-day basis how many rail cars are on site and pinpoint areas of concern and the issues we need to address,” Carrasco said. “My favorite part about this project is how we can develop talent. It’s the perfect opportunity to allow students to work on real-time projects with complex situations to address.”

The student team implemented a key performance indicator tool that allows Alpek Polyester to monitor their rail car process that will result in lowered overall costs, less rail cars being shipped to off-site storage and less costs resulting from safety issues, said William Lamb, an operations and supply chain and finance major who was on the Alpek Polyester team. Lamb graduates in December and will begin working in January with Manhattan Associates, a software consulting firm, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The semester-long projects “allow students to not only gain real-live industry experience, but we also get to work in an intense environment in a manufacturing plant and gain a real understanding of the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt procedure,” Lamb said.

Most of the students who participate in the capstone consulting projects and Industry Summits typically earn their industry-validated Sonoco-USC Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certificate. The program trains professionals to understand and implement problem solving, data collection, data interpretation, variation, process capability and cost-benefit analysis.

“To date, more than 1,200 students from the Industry Summits have graduated with this valuable qualification, and it is a rare accomplishment for any academic program – business or engineering,” said Sanjay Ahire, an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, co-director of the Operations and Supply Chain Center and professor of operations and supply chain management.

Impressed by how prepared the students were working with Alpek Polyester, Carrasco said he is hopeful his company may hire one or more of the students he worked with on the project.

“The project gives us the opportunity to let the students know more about our company and allows us to see their skills and capabilities,” he said. “There is a match of what the [Moore School] is teaching them and our business needs. These students show outstanding capabilities and skills working in complex situations in the operations and supply chain context.”

For another student project for the fall semester, Siemens collaborated with a student team to link several computers together to mine all of their data and do some data analysis, said Ken Morrison, head of logistics for North America for Siemens, the largest health care supplier in the world. Siemens has worked with the Moore School on these projects for 10 years.

“What we get out of it is innovation, fresh eyes and a fresh look at the business,” Morrison said. We don’t have time to dig in deep like the students to do a deeper analysis.”

The student team analyzed data regarding Siemens’ shipping processes, including number of full truckload shipments, package damage and delivery times, said Katherine DeWeese, a Moore School management major with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a minor in political science.

“We worked on [ensuring] full truckload shipments, reducing package damage and lowering delivery times,” she said.

DeWeese will put the real-world experience she gained from the Siemens project to work at Home Depot when she begins her career with them as an inventory planning analyst after she graduates in May.

In terms of how the capstone consulting projects benefit Siemens, Morrison estimates the solution the Moore School students offered will save Siemens “millions of dollars.”

Like Carrasco, Morrison would like to hire Moore School students and intends to meet with some of the operations and supply chain professors soon to potentially fill three openings on the Siemens team.

“These students amaze me every semester,” Morrison said. “They always come through with a nice solution.”

The companies’ eagerness to hire students really shows the strength of the program, said David Precht, a lecturer for the Operations and Supply Chain Center and the management science department who was the faculty advisor for the Siemens team.

“The capstone consulting projects reinforce our national ranking with the skills the students have gained that demonstrate they will be valuable employees,” he said. “Coming from the industry [and not academia], I can tell you these are the cream of the crop students. They bring value to companies and will be very successful in their careers.”

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