By Leslie Wimmer
More than 600 motor carrier companies, more than 50 air cargo carriers and more than $57 billion in imports and exports in 2010 make the Dallas-Fort Worth area the largest inland port in the U.S. and a major distribution center for North America. For researchers interested in the movement of goods along a supply chain, the area is a perfect location.
"Our proximity to so many resources, rail yards, airports, highways and intermodal centers gives us incredible opportunities to study how supply chains operate in the real world," says Terry Pohlen, associate professor of marketing and logistics at the University of North Texas. "You could say it serves as a real-life laboratory."
UNT's logistics experts work in the Complex Logistics Systems research cluster, and they teach students in the logistics and supply chain management degree program, which is ranked by Gartner Inc. as one of the top 25 in North America and in the top four for its internship program.
With research geared toward improving the industry, they also help national corporations through the Center for Logistics Education and Research, which Pohlen directs. The center is supported by major industry partners including Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co., Hostess Brands, Hillwood Investment Properties, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., Sysco Foods, JCPenney, PepsiCo and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.
"The work the center's board is doing will help large supply chain systems uncover opportunities to realize safety improvements and cost saving measures," says Fred Malesa, BNSF Railway vice president of international intermodal marketing. "BNSF is proud to be a part of this important research."
Steve Swartz, associate professor of marketing and logistics, is working to make roads safer by developing assessment tools for professional driver safety training programs. The amount of large truck freight transportation has increased across the U.S. in recent decades, and Texas has more than 300,000 miles of roads — the most in the country. Historically, motor carrier safety has been viewed through an engineering lens, Swartz says. Engineers have focused on designing new concepts for vehicle equipment or creating gadgets with the goal of improving safety. But Swartz took a different approach with the safety research he began in 2004. Using behavior analysis principles, he asked drivers how they make safety decisions.
Whether a hurricane is headed toward a major world port endangering millions of dollars in goods, or disaster aid supplies need to move across the country as fast as possible, logistics is involved.
UNT's Complex Logistics Systems research cluster combines knowledge from faculty in the College of Business, the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, and the College of Arts and Sciences to investigate various logistics system issues, such as emergency response.
"Disasters, whether at the national or international level, require a lot of logistical support. You've got to get people and supplies from point A to point B quickly and safely because lives are at stake," says David McEntire, professor of emergency management. "If that movement is slow, people suffer."
Terry Clower, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic Development and Research, says in addition to supporting the evacuation of large populations, promoting business resilience in the transportation sector is an important consideration during a disaster.
"Economics provides specific analytic tools to help assess transportation system resiliency, improving policy making and minimizing disruption of critical transportation services," he says.
Other areas the cluster's researchers explore include network optimization and planning, financial management, inventory management and demand forecasting, pricing of logistics and transportation, systems design and analysis, and modeling and simulation methods.
"I began looking into how to prevent accidents and asking what makes drivers decide to do what they do while they're on the road," Swartz says. "An assumption has been made in safety research that accidents can be prevented with more engineering, science and design. The notion of human error has been left out. Also, past research has largely relied on information exchanged among researchers, as opposed to information gained from the people who drive the trucks."
In Swartz's research, funded by the Texas Logistics Education Foundation and the Texas Motor Transport Association, he has interviewed more than 1,000 drivers, including rock haulers, municipal drivers and long-haul goods drivers. He also has gone on ride-alongs and taken professional driver training courses. He broadened his research by collaborating with businesses in the trucking and insurance industries.
Swartz found that overall, if drivers view their own safety performance as high, they are less likely to engage in unsafe behaviors. However, to take on the difficult task of changing unsafe behavior on a large scale, companies must focus training on changing driver attitudes, perceptions of control and self-assessment of safe behaviors.
Swartz's goal is to understand the decision-making process of drivers with impeccable driving records, and then develop training suggestions and assessment tools to improve safety for drivers of various skill levels.
In other research, Swartz works with Ila Manuj, assistant professor of marketing and logistics, and Atefeh Yazdanparast, a doctoral candidate in marketing and logistics, to examine how businesses can take a product-focused approach to logistics planning. They say businesses today are looking for innovative ways to restructure supply chains and open up new relationships.
"Marketing makes you want to buy a product, and logistics makes sure the product gets to you fresh, on time, safe and not damaged," Manuj says. "In this research, we are applying marketing principles of 'service-dominant logic' to logistics applications. Businesses want to find solutions that are co-created with others along the supply chain because those will be the most effective and valuable to consumers."
Co-created value begins with dialog, Manuj says, because a lack of dialog results in a failure to understand what brings value to the customer. In a recent example illustrating the importance of communication between service providers and customers, a logistics service company contracted with an outside carrier to provide uniformed drivers and next-day service to a customer.
When the company discovered the customer cared only that the freight was picked up on time and delivered damage free, it switched to a carrier that provided the exact service the customer required, improving its profit margins and decreasing costs for the customer.
In her newest research, Manuj is examining how companies with complex supply chains involving multiple countries and transit modes can manage risk. Supply chains for some companies are expanding geographically because they are beginning to put a stronger focus on their most successful business segments. She cites a leading consumer electronics company in the United States that is focusing its work on product development and design and outsourcing everything from production to delivery, relying on an efficient and safe supply chain.
"As supply chains become more complicated, you need more holistic and robust solutions," Manuj says. "The longer your supply chain, the higher the chances that an adverse event could affect your products, assets and people."
The logistics and aviation logistics programs within UNT's College of Business continue to grow and receive recognition for their curricula, research, internship opportunities and 100 percent student job placement rate.
Two new professors — Wesley Randall and Pamela Donovan — joined the faculty in fall 2011, bringing strong backgrounds in aviation logistics to UNT from their service in the U.S. Air Force.
Randall, whose work at Auburn University supported Federal Aviation Administration efforts to understand the impact of adding unmanned air systems to the National Aerospace System, is beginning new research at UNT funded by the Naval Postgraduate School in partnership with the Stevens Institute.
He will investigate how major aircraft manufacturers can reorganize their service models using performance-based contracting approaches. His work in performance-based logistics and contracting suggests the new approaches improve system performance for customers, improve affordability and provide industry opportunities for improved return on investment.
Donovan, in her research supported by the Air Force Institute of Technology, focuses on how economic factors impact airline involvement in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a U.S. Department of Transportation program in which airlines volunteer their services should the U.S. Department of Defense need support.
UNT's Center for Logistics Education and Research also is continuing to connect with major businesses in Dallas-Fort Worth and open up opportunities for research on logistics issues.
Pohlen, with funding from the center's board, is working on providing an annual logistical snapshot of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with up-to-date statistics and information about issues facing logistics industries in the area and throughout Texas.
"We're examining the effect of several factors, such as import and export volumes, relocation of several shippers to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, intermodal rail volumes, NAFTA trade volumes, and the designation of Dallas in 2012 as the delivery point for cotton futures trading," says Pohlen, who routinely gives presentations on such information to industry organizations and is working with the North Texas Commission to highlight key logistics trends.
The goal is for the report to become a valuable resource for government officials who want to attract businesses and for businesses looking to expand into the North Texas region.
"The research done by Dr. Pohlen and his team gives us the data to support what we already know anecdotally — the North Texas region is one of the premier places for companies to house their distribution and supply chain facilities," says Mabrie Jackson, president of the North Texas Commission. "Having the data to support it just makes our case that much more compelling."
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