How to design supply chain solutions: An interview with a project engineer
November 1, 2017
FedEx Supply Chain prides itself on building optimal solutions for our customers and working together to effectively implement operational improvements. We sat down with Laura Litwin, one of our experienced project engineers, to learn more about how effective solutions are built.
What is the role of a project engineer?
LL: Project engineers are responsible for analyzing potential warehousing layouts, distribution, process flows, and evaluating time of tasks within the warehouse. We use AutoCAD to create layout designs, analyze historical order data — inbound, outbound and inventory — and evaluate ways to optimize operations.
What are the challenges you’re working to solve?
LL: Potential customers are typically looking for a solution that will enable them to meet increasing demand, operate efficiently, integrate systems effectively and save costs over time. For example, with some of our customers they find their business is growing rapidly so they need a 3PL to help them expand their operations.
Who else do you work with to develop a comprehensive solution?
LL: Our customer contact and the inputs they provide are critical, of course. We’re quite consultative in our approach and are able to work closely with their existing team to ensure effective implementation and a positive, long-lasting relationship. Internally, we’re part of the solution design team, which is a cross-functional group that works collaboratively. The team consists of a solutions design architect, an operations manager and also a systems engineer whenever technology integrations are involved. We all draw on our wide range of skills and experiences to create a proposal to most efficiently and cost-effectively run the customer’s operations — taking their unique business needs into consideration.
How does the process of designing a supply chain solution begin?
LL: We usually start with information provided by the customer and spend quite a bit of time asking questions and learning more about their business and current operations. It’s always really helpful when we get to tour an existing facility of theirs as well. At that point engineering sorts through and manipulates the data. We look at the customer profile: number of units and orders they’re shipping daily, number of lines, volume and/or weight of shipments, etc. These key inputs help guide the solution design.
How are project engineers involved after the final solution is agreed upon? And what does success ultimately look like?
LL: We are involved through the point at which everything is in a steady state. We work with the original solution design team as well as the facility prep team who manages the contractors on-site as everything is getting set up. We help site the building, ensure racking and labeling is installed in a timely manner and then conduct extensive testing. For example, we test to ensure the throughput rate of conveyors matches the plan. After everything is live and hits a steady state, the field engineering team takes over from there. We know we’re successful when we design a solution based on actual data, identify innovative ways to meet and exceed the customer’s needs, execute a smooth transition and work with the customer over time to continue to optimize operations.
How is the FedEx Supply Chain approach to solution design different?
LL: We’re always listening and adapting plans to meet our customer’s needs. Our team leverages a wide variety of skills, experience and expertise. You’ll always have someone on the team who will be able to help design the best possible solution, plus customers have a direct line of communication to all team members. And we never view our work as complete — we’re always looking for ways to continuously improve operations for our customers.
If you’re interested in learning more about how FedEx Supply Chain can enable your business growth, contact us today.