Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Logistics of Joel's New Christmas Toys

Well Christmas has been and gone and I hope you had a good break whatever faith persuasion you have.  With Christmas came toys for Joel, my two year old son.  Joel is articulate for a two year old but we have yet to discuss warehousing but he is clearly developing his own views and trying to communicate them through his toys.
Joel’s mother and I prefer a centralized storage system with a just in time logistics (JITL) approach to toys being available for play.  Joel however likes to disaggregate his toy stock and has a number of places that he likes to preposition “stock” for immediate use later on.  Both of these approaches are valid and widely used in aid and development.  Some employ a hub and spoke system and some go galactic with satellite stores orbiting a stellar  central warehouse.
The key is to know your supply needs to work out which is appropriate for you.  The Logistics Project frequently advise on just this subject. Joel has not sought this advice even though he is on good terms with one of the principal consultants.  Despite this he has achieved some successes in his decision making but also some more worrying logistical developments.
Joel’s quick wins
It became obvious at an early stage that small rubber toys that could squirt water were rather specialist and this category became known as “bath toys”.  Bath Toys were removed from the Ma&Pa central store and taken to the bathroom a specialist storage facility for toys that are good in the wet.
Joel also works with controlled substances, mainly crayons, pencils, play doh, paint and generally sticky stuff.  These items need specialist storage systems and expert supervision in their use.  To store these items with the main “stockholding” of toys would have limited the access to the non controlled items meaning there would be less playtime facility on uncontrolled items.  By negotiation Joel and the controlled substance authorities found a spot in the understairs cupboard that both were happy with.  In this way all the responsibility for the controlled substances passes to the warehouse provider.
Joel’s tough lessons
Joel was clearly passionate about prepositioning “play stock” but hadn’t thought through his strategy.  He stumbled in a few key areas:
  1. Accessibility - down the back of the sofa was not a good choice although it seemed relevant at the time, for low value and unimportant items such as building blocks there was no imperative to move the sofa to use this play stock.
  1. Inventory -  Joel disaggregated his stocks from Ma&Pa central stores without having an adequate system for recording the new locations and the locations he chose were not intuitive.  The fire truck under daddy’s pillow was not discovered until well after the toy town fire department needed it.
  1. Consumption - Joel likes to lump all of one category together in one area, in some places such as the bathroom that made sense but in other areas he hadn’t considered consumption.  All the soft toys in his play tent was OK until he wanted them in other locations where they were inaccessible.  Equally all the Lego blocks upstairs required a large heavy lift capacity (aka Daddy) to move them downstairs for general play.
Now Joel is only two and in my eyes is growing to be a pretty neat little loggie, and if his toy fire chiefs hat becomes a real one in times to come these logistics skills will still be of great operational use.  If this little story left you bamboozled as to what I am talking about you may need a storage audit.  If you find stock missing, arriving late or your movement costs being exorbitant it may mean you need to look at how and where you store things.
It is just a couple of days to 2012 so we would like to wish you all the best from all at The Logistics Project.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

To those of you have chosen to follow this Blog or sneakily RSS it so I can't see you.  I just wanted to take the time to say Happy Christmas.  We are shutting up shop today for the Christmas period having just taken delivery of our newly sharpened logos from Wangbar.  Many thanks to Ewan for turning these around for the New Year.  We also wanted to leave you with something seasonal from our informal Senior Policy Advisor, and Academic at Bath School of Management, Tony Roath.  Originally from the Bangkok Post's business section, here is an analysis of Santa's logistics.

 Celebrating Christmas in a Buddhist country like Thailand requires advance planning, flexibility and a good imagination. However, even though Thais do not take a holiday _ Christmas would have to be the most enthusiastically celebrated festive event of the year. In fact throughout Southeast Asia _ the Christmas supply chains have not only been stocking up with good will but in supplying the thousands of tonnes of decorations, artificial trees, tinsel, coloured lights, Santa costumes and artificial snow. With presents under the tree and unable to wait any longer, Christmas this year is a very special time to have a well-deserved break and put behind us a year of tragedy, floods, earthquakes and cyclones.
Now let us see if there is some logic behind all this talk of Christmas.
The logistics of Santa's delivery service
An interesting study by B.A. Robinson (of Ontario Consultants) has computed certain delivery performance criteria for Santa's annual journey. It is largely reprinted from the original source and lists a number of assumptions:
_ Santa delivers no gifts to naughty children.
_ Only one Santa distributes all of the gifts.
_ Santa bypasses Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other non-Christian homes.
_ The percentage of households in which there is at least one child who has been not naughty, but was nice enough to receive a present is 90%.
_ Santa loads all of the presents before starting his journey. i.e. he does not return to the North Pole periodically to reload nor does he use any form of backhaul from remote suppliers.
Further calculations follow:
Amount of time Santa spends per household:
_ Number of humans in the world: 60 billion comprising about 2 billion children.
_ Percentage of children whose parents are Christian: 33%
_ Maximum number of children who might receive gifts: 667 million.
_ Average number of children per household: 3.5
_ Number of destinations where Santa might deliver presents: 189 million.
_ Number of destinations for Roman Catholic and Protestant families: 173 million. (The remainder are Eastern Orthodox locations, which Santa would handle, in his second trip on Jan 5.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has not yet adopted the Gregorian calendar; the current gap between the calendars is 12 days and expanding).
_ Total number of destinations where Santa delivers gifts: 156 million.
Santa cannot arrive until the children are asleep, so it is assumed he could commence distributing presents in each time zone at perhaps 9 pm local time, finishing within an hour, before moving one time zone to the west.
He could take longer in each time zone, as long as the entire job was finished comfortably before children woke up in the last zone.
Assuming that the children sleep for seven hours, this gives him 31 hours (or a total of 1,860 minutes, or 111,600 seconds) to finish all deliveries.
_ Average number of homes to visit per second = 1,398.
This only gives him about 715 microseconds in which to decelerate the sleigh, land on the roof, walk to the chimney, slide down the chimney, distribute the presents and retrace his steps.
Adjustment for special circumstances: If one considers that: Santa's competitor Befana distributes gifts in Italy.
Santa distributes gifts on Boxing Day (Dec 26) to poor children in some British Commonwealth countries.
Santa distributes some gifts in bulk quantities to orphanages, children's hospitals etc. before Christmas.
Sinter Klass distributes some gifts on Dec 5 to children in Belgium, Germany and Holland.
Then the average number of homes to visit per second on Christmas Eve is only perhaps 1,000. He would deliver gifts to about 500 million children.
Distance and Speed
Assuming that Antarctica is essentially uninhabited, and ignoring the various inland lakes, the total inhabited land on earth is about 204 million sq km.
Assuming the destinations are evenly distributed over the available land, the average distance between destinations is in the order of 1.26 km.
Total distance travelled is 180 million km: a little longer than the distance from the earth to the sun! Over a 31-hour interval he needs to cover 1,600 km a second.
This is the average speed of the sleigh. Some time is required to decelerate the sleigh to a stop, for Santa to deliver the presents, for him to return to the sleigh and for the sleigh to accelerate to cruising speed. The latter would be on the order of 3200 km a second. Santa would perhaps then need to visit 1,000 homes per second.
Even at a much lower speed 100 km/second, air resistance would cause the lead reindeer to adsorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second and that the entire team of Reindeer and Santa in his Sleigh would be converted almost instantly to charcoal.
There are two logical explanations for these incredible figures:
Santa Claus does not exist, except as a symbol or a myth. Some adults believe this, but most young children do not (including my daughter).
Santa Claus has magical, near god-like powers: from his location at the North Pole, he sees the children when they are sleeping. He knows when they are awake. He knows they are bad and good. This in Thailand is the only logical explanation.
So you'd better not shout, you'd better not cry
Santa does logistics better than anyone else in the sky! Happy Christmas.    (NB certain air cargo carriers may dispute this last point)

Friday, 23 December 2011

The logistics of my packed lunch

Today my lunch will consist of chicken soup, dry toast and a boiled egg.  I can hear you wondering how I am going to make this logistically relevant; really this is the story of what I am not having for my packed lunch.  The things I am not having for my lunch are noodles and butter for my toast.

Not a good time for elastomeric failure

This morning I opened the fridge eager to whip out the noodles only to find the Lamb family batch control system had broken down.  Noodles were past their sell by of the 20th and looking a little bit sketchy in terms of edibility.  This sent me harking back to my RAF supply office training.  We had a flight sergeant that we called uncle Lou who had a great line in stories of pressurized gas canister catastrophes (but that is a story for another time).  Lou’s other passion was elastomerics, that is to say he was passionate about the storage and stock control of rubber stuff.  I am reliably informed that if you store tires they give off a choking and flammable gas over time so all tire stores must be vented.  Certainly if my time in Haiti is anything to go by tyres burn well and the smoke is choking.  More precious to Lou was the humble rubber gasket seal, this little fella was very susceptible to perishing with time and artificial light……”as delicate as a flower – batch control is essential”.  In the commercial world now there are many IT solutions which will highlight where to pick your elastomerics from.  In the field however it is good logistics practice that needs to protect your time sensitive items whether they are food stuffs or pharmaceuticals.  Prudent ordering should leave you with a smooth supply chain bringing your plumpy nut  in batches that have a minimum of overlap in expiry.  Once they arrive in the consumption location a culture of best practice needs to be adopted to prevent them being sent for animal feed (the donkeys of El Genina ate well in 2004/5).  Best practice varies but we at The Logistics project like to observe the principles of keeping all batches of the same product on the one stock card clearly annotated to prevent a later batch being used first in ignorance.  On distribution mixed batches can be sent out but the later batch should boxed within a box and clearly marked as the later batch……if only the Lamb family fridge was so organised.
North Darfur is rather warm.
Ever the resourceful loggie I opted for soup and toast.  After all I have a heavy cold and chicken soup is medicinal.  There is a toaster in the office and we had a loaf end which was just about the right amount but butter……I had no solution for the butter.  No suitable containers and no cold chain plan.  I had managed to move vaccines through Sahara and Sahel landscapes for WHO  , I even once managed a load of ice cream and french soft cheeses from Khartoum to El Fasher after we had lost a colleague to a land mine.  Where had these skills gone this morning, no suitable container no cold media and consequently no butter on my toast at lunch today. If only I could apply all that I have learned professionally to my packed lunch.   We soldier on at The Logistics Project…

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Why The Logistics Project?

The Logistics Project was originally a working name for the concept it has now become.  We stuck with the name because it has that no frills “it does just what it says on the label” factor.  In 2003 I left the relative safety of a Royal Air Force career to “go and work in aid”.  I took me the best part of a year to get into the aid world during which I worked for a commercial freight forwarder moving Kylie Minogue's Love Kylie Lingerie range; a fact that the best man at my wedding is eternally grateful for as it allowed him to say I spent a year in Kylie’s knickers.  In September 2004 Itook my first aid job as a Logistician in Darfur…….oh my word this was not the slick well-oiled machine I had known from the military.  In fact at times the wheels barely stayed on the huge logistics juggernaut.  This wasn’t particularly the organisation I worked for but just a general attitude toward logistics that prevailed that anyone can do it……… anyone did do it with varying degrees of success.  There were some great logistics operators in UNJLC but throughout my career  I have met computer programmers, veterinarians, MA development students, ambulance technicians, agriculture experts, mountaineers and pretty much every profession under the sun having a go at logistics.  I started putting together a plan of how it could all be done better particularly in emergencies.
At roughly the same time The Fritz Institute were writing a report on just how badly wrong the tsunami response had gone logistically.  It was scathing about the skill levels, logistical education levels and the disorganised concerted effort levels.  They came up with a number of solutions the most renowned one is the Certificate in Humanitarian Logistics. If you want to get into humanitarian logistics or are in humanitarian logistics and want a qualification I would recommend this course – it is not the be all and end all of being a good field loggie but it is a great start.

North Darfur:
 En route to ACWY meningitis mass vaccination in Saraf Omra

I spent the next six years throwing myself into and out of different logistics and operations jobs to see the problem from all angles.  I have responded to the Tsunami, Niger Food Crisis, Kashmir Quake and Haiti Earthquake and consulted on projects from ethical ethanol distribution West Africa to loading athletes at multi sports events in Qatar.  I have worked with air transport, shipping overland and inland waterways.  Over this time I not only got to understand logistics but aid and development programming and eventually ran a medium sized country office in Haiti, leading hospital, education, engineering and camp management teams.  Within in those six years there were a few mistakes and a lot of bruises to my plans on how to make things better.
2011 has been about knocking these plans into shape with the sharpest minds I can muster. 
Dr Tony Roach, former Professor at Oklahoma University and now International Strategy &Management Lecturer at University of Bath’s School of Management, John Leach, Director of Operations at Shelterbox, Jonathan Horsfall, a development worker with Revelation Life Uganda, Paul Nedoszytko, of 7 life languages, Ewan, an RAF Ops Support Wing Commander, Robert, an LSE economist  Ian, well renowned charity CEO.
The outcome is this:

The Logistics Project is registering as a Community Interest Company. We are starting the process of building a secure self sustaining agency by providing consultancy services to Aid & Development Agencies, Charities, Not for Profits and the Corporate Social Responsibility departments of companies looking to work in aid.  Being a CIC we don’t need to pay dividends to any shareholders or investors so all the money gets reinvested in the two activities The Logistics Project concept was built on the DRU and the GIMP (yes we know this is funny).
The Disaster Relief Unit deploys to disaster zones within 12 hours of the incident and starts to look at co-ordinate in the logistics efforts by filling the capability gaps in rapid onset disasters.  Often there is insufficient logistics capacity in country to absorb the huge surge of cargo that arrives post disaster.  The DRU is manned by specialist logisticians who have donated their time either free of charge or sponsored by their company.  They will be trained by The Logistics Project’s Humanitarian Leadership Training Academy (HuLTA) in how to apply their expertise to the humanitarian setting, how to survive in a disaster zone and how to co-ordinate with UN and NGO agencies.  The aim is to have a team in country to work with all aid agencies in solving problems of arrival, clearing, storage and distribution of aid materiel.


UNJLC/WHO/UNDSS Joint Recce Pic Chinasi
"Mad Dog" in the foreground

The Geographic Information Management Project was borne of the work done in Kashmir by UNJLC.  Whilst large 4x4’s were struggling to map the country due to missing bridges and landslides and trying to trace roads by helicopter was too inaccurate it was found that two men (myself and “Mad Dog” Metcalfe) could quickly map the areas disrupted by earthquake damage by using mountain bikes and on foot with a few tactical helicopter pick-ups and drop-offs..  The GIMP seeks to engage mountain bikers, mountain marathon athletes and a limited amount of enduro riders to head out into the disaster zone with GPS equipment and track roads, note areas of damage and disruption to infrastructure and provide other vital data to GIS sections of UN agencies and mapping charities.  Although this work wouldn’t normally be the remit of logisticians an understanding of the road network is vital in creating a picture of the viable main supply routes and the challenges in reaching vulnerable disaster affected communities.  The GIMP will be manned by volunteers selected at special selection weekends and given training in how to operate in a disaster zone.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

What starts in the phrase "I am a logistician" and ends in silence?

What starts in the phrase "I am a logistician" and ends in silence?

"Sorry a dental technician?"
Pretty much any conversation which includes the phrase "I am a logistician". Occasionally you'll get a polite "oh" or "sorry?" assuming you have mispronounced dental technician. On the upside of this you never have the doctor's curse of trying to diagnose someone's distribution maladies, but you are left trying to fill the void about what you do.

So what do we do?  (pause) erm...... (longer pause) well nothing really. Hauliers haul, truckers truck, warehouse managers warehouse, clearance agents clear but logisticians are rarely referred to as logisticking.... (predictive text wants me to write logistic king which is a title many of us try to attain). In essence logisticians are lazy, know it all, interferers ...... We don't do anything but we know what should be done and have no qualms in shaking off our idleness to harangue other people to do it in a timely cost effective and efficient manner. Any tongue lashed shipping clerk will tell you a dozing logistician is moments away from manic exertion if a transshipment is botched, any client will tell you a good logistician equals a good nights sleep.

HF radio fitting we love it!!!
So what are we? In Darwinian terms -(who knows if he recanted on his death bed) - we are evolved project managers. We evolved out of a need to understand the worlds of the trucker, shipping line or warehouse in fact that is where many of us came from and erupted into the world of the consignee and consingor to make sense of it all. We are the make it happen make sense of it all people, the go to guys and girls.
Nowhere is this more true than aid work. In 13 years I have fitted HF radios, built tented cities, dug communication cable lines, fixed IT, managed vaccination campaigns, run medical evacuation teams, cleared mountainous rubble, mapped austere snow bound mountain passes and occasionally done warehousing and distribution. The Logistician is aid's catch all term for the guy who just seems to be able to do stuff. If your sick call a doctor, arrested call a lawyer for most other things an aid logistician will do. ;-)
Gunung Sitoli, Indonesia, Post Tsunami Earthquake Relief

Monday, 19 December 2011

Logistics Heroes at Christmas

Sorry Santa, it's not you.
It would be easy to think at this time of year I am talking about logistics troops overseas or perhaps someone like Fedex delivering Christmas trees to them (, but I 'm not. Perhaps the Royal Mail with the 130 million cards and packages they deliver a day to bring Christmas cheer. Nope. Christmas bikers annual toy run to the Barnados School?  Not even that.  Surely then I must be talking of the big guy in the red suit…… Santa and his many elves are worth a mention but no.

This post goes out to all the folk who cook a traditional British Christmas Dinner, Turkey, stuffing, Pigs in blankets, veggies (sprouts are a must) cranberry sauce, Christmas pud....oh it is soooo good. Logistics heroes?   This is a true supply chain logistics life cycle marvel.  First we have sourcing you can’t buy just any old turkey it has to be the right size and weight, when tendering for turkey ensure it is not pumped full of phosphate to enlarge the bird.  The timing for this is critical if you want fresh not only timing but storage media……is your fridge big enough for a 16lb bird to fit on one shelf.  If frozen you are entering into a whole JITL (just in time logistics) scenario with defrosting.  We are only at the turkey on top of this you must then cook at least 4 types of vegetable two types of potato, stuffing and numerous sauces all with four cooker top rings and a fan assisted oven.  Did I mention dessert, a flaming Christmas pudding with brandy butter...probably mince pies and cream and something for Great Aunt Maud because all this rich food plays havoc with her colon.  This kind of timing makes fleet management at a distribution centre look like child’s play.  Loading and delivery are a fine art; I personally favour high density loading of the plate but many favour a more agile lighter load courier style service.

So as you appreciate Christmas dinner wherever you are in the world spare a thought for the logistics that has gone into this.  Please be aware that The Logistics Project does not offer consultancy on this type of project but we will happily quality test the final product.  That said  I did once organise a team of highly skilled World Health Organisation team of Doctors, Nurse, Epidemiologists and Midwives from around the world to cook a Christmas dinner in the wilds of the Himalayan foothills....maybe we should consult on this, the perks were pretty tasty. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Blogging about logistics....

Social media....... I am told it is very important, if you don't tweet you are a twit.  If you are not on Facebook you are faceless.  Blogging about logistics though seems a little dull.  I mean there is only so much you can say about the humble cargo manifest.  My logs career however has been adrenaline fuelled, adventure driven and quite frankly what some might

Logistics has seen me refuelling chinooks with the rotors turning (too much fun to be legal), mountain biking through Kashmir through Kashmir to map the main supply routes,

                                          Yup I really was considering running across and active landslide.....doh!!!

 working at world sporting events loading and unloading athletes and working with teams of JCBs to clear rubble in downtown Port au Prince Haiti.  I have met royalty, celebrity, infamy, extraordinary and a fair amount of borderline insanity.  So I am not a stay at home logistician, I am an out there doing it in the dust logistician, and judging by the picture a sweaty one.  So put down your prejudices about us "loggies" and read on.

Sweaty in Pulau Nias.