Have you ever ordered a couch or arm-chair and waited an interminable amount of time for delivery? The usual reason why getting upholstered furniture often takes forever is the fabric. From the manufacturer’s point of view, the fabric is expensive, which would be tolerable if one could count on it moving through the process quickly. However, in the furniture world, you can’t count on that. Above a certain price point, nearly every manufacturer competes on offering lots of variety. Once you pick out a couch that’s the right size and sufficiently comfy, you get handed a book of fabric samples with literally hundreds of choices. Some — indeed, most — of those options are destined to be low runners, rarely chosen options that will appeal to only a very few customers. That creates problems for the manufacturer. Holding all of those options in inventory may just be too costly. A manufacturer may hold some of the more popular variants in inventory, but for the more esoteric choices, they will wait to order the fabric after getting an order for a couch.
But what if you could print the desired pattern for the couch on site?
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For those who are not baseball fans, let me give you a quick update: The Chicago Cubs are really good this year. They won over 100 games in the regular season and have now jumped out to a 2 – 0 lead in their best-of-five series with the San Francisco Giants. FiveThirtyEight has them as the favorite to win the World Series.
If all of that is news to you, you should also be told that the Cubs have, frankly, sucked for a long, long time. They haven’t won a pennant since 1945 and a World Series since 1908. There is even a short story (The Last Pennant Before Armageddon) tying the Cubs winning a pennant to the end of the world. (To answer the obvious question, the World Series is scheduled to start on October 25th. Barring rain delays, the last possible game would be on November 2nd. The US presidential election is on November 8th.)
So if the Cubs make it to the World Series, there will be a lot of excitement around here. If they actually win the Series, Cook County will likely shut down for a month. And that all raises a question: How many Cubs t-shirts can be sold?
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Many years ago I used to live in Boston and would on occasion wander over to Harvard Square. A frequent stop would be Harvard Book Store a large independent bookstore. A lot of things have changed in Harvard Square since then but Harvard Book Store is still there. Forbes reports that one of the reasons is that a new owner made an aggressive bet on printing books in the store (The Man Who Took on Amazon and Saved a Bookstore, May 10).
Essentially, Jeff installed a printing press to close the inventory gap with Amazon. The Espresso Book Machine sits in the middle of Harvard Book Store like a hi-tech visitor to an earlier era. A compact digital press, it can print nearly five million titles including Google Books that are in the public domain, as well as out of print titles. We’re talking beautiful, perfect bound paperbacks indistinguishable from books produced by major publishing houses. The Espresso Book Machine can be also used for custom publishing, a growing source of revenue, and customers can order books in the store and on-line.
You can walk into the store, request an out-of-print, or hard-to-find title, and a bookseller can print that book for you in approximately four minutes.
We have written about Espresso Book Machines before. They are a nifty piece of technology and from an inventory management point of view make a lot of sense for lower volume titles.
But here’s the thing: Amazon has the same technology. (more…)
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If you buy a Japanese built Toyota, where would you expect the final bit of assembly to be done? Would you believe Newark?
The New York Times had an article on the process of receiving imported cars (Far From the Factory, Adding Final Touches, Sep 25). What is unsurprising is that car makers have processes in place to check for and repair any damage that occurred during shipment. What is a little unexpected is that they do some additional work to customize cars such as installing Bluetooth systems or putting on roof racks (see the picture at left).
Toyota’s 98-acre operation at Newark’s port is something of a scaled-down assembly plant, though the work — adding a range of so-called port-installed options into 21 different models — is done largely by hand using simple tools, not by industrial robots controlled by computers. About 185 employees work in Toyota’s car wash, quality control center and five production shops here.
By adding items like floormats and GPS systems at its distribution centers instead of at its factories, Toyota gives customers a chance to tinker with their orders until just two days before the vehicles dock in Newark. And it gives dealers a way to stand apart from their competitors.
“We want to tailor the vehicle to what the customer wants,” said Bill Barrett, the national logistics manager at the Newark location. “We build the car they want.” …
The work would grind to a halt without Rui Sousa, whose job it is to order accessories daily from suppliers, based on expected needs in two days’ time. The key, he said, is limiting the volume of accessories for unpopular cars or those that are undergoing model changes, while keeping enough on hand for more popular cars.
“We’re trying to find the right balance,” said Mr. Sousa, who has honed his orders so finely that the amount of just-in-time inventory has been cut by about two-thirds during the last four years.
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