December 2003 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Mark Davis: Logistics at the Speed of Flight

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Like many logistics professionals, Mark Davis spends nearly every day racing the clock. At Tracer Corporation, his department rushes aircraft parts to meet airlines' just-in-time requirements, or to get grounded planes back in the air. Along with time, though, Davis' department faces another sort of pressure: they have to maintain precise records on every part they handle.

"It's critical, and it's a challenge, to make sure you maintain a trace trail with the proper documentation for each item in your inventory," says Davis, vice president of logistics at Tracer, a Milwaukee-based aftermarket distributor.

The paper trail proves that each aircraft part was produced by an authorized manufacturer according to correct procedures, and that it still meets all necessary standards when Tracer releases it to a customer. The real test is "to be able to maintain that trace trail for all those materials in a very high-volume, high-turnover industry," Davis says. "We have standard operating procedures with step-by-step instructions for every item, which is 100-percent inspected on the inbound and outbound."

Any material that fails inspection is quarantined until the issue is resolved. Most of the time, the failure merely involves missing paperwork, he says.

Davis has worked in aviation since his second year of college, which he left to pursue his career full-time. Since September, Davis has led a group at Tracer that manages inventory, shipping and receiving, paperwork control, traceability documentation, repair order management and customer support. Tracer sells directly to commercial airlines and to aftermarket redistributors.

Running lean operations in a difficult economy, Tracer's customers often don't place orders until they actually need the parts. Then they need them right away.

"We're constantly fighting to ensure that we ship the same day for our customers when we receive a purchase order," Davis says. "Some of that material is coming in today and shipping today."

While most of the outbound goods move via UPS or FedEx, some shipments can't wait for the next regular pickup; those often travel as cargo on scheduled airlines.

Davis understands the need for fast service from the airline's side as well as the distributor's. In an earlier job at America West Airlines, he once needed to get a replacement engine to a commuter plane that was grounded at the Grand Canyon Airport. The emergency arose after business hours on a Friday.

"We weren't able to find anybody who could move it," Davis recalls. "So one of my warehouse supervisors and I loaded the engine on our truck, and we drove it from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. We were able to get it there so the mechanics could fix it."

Davis looks back with pleasure on his career so far. But if he could do one thing over, he says, he would complete a four-year college degree, which he terms "critical" for anyone entering logistics today.

"My career is exactly where I would want it to be," Davis says, "but I also think I've been extremely fortunate, through hard work and being in the right place at the right time, to be in the position that I am today."

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

Keep it Simple, by Terry Bradshaw

What's in your briefcase right now?

My cell phone and calculator, two or three notepads, and a small cassette recorder. And typically I'll have a newspaper and whatever files I may be working on that day.

Business motto?

Accountability, accountability, accountability.

Technology you can't live without?

Documents scanned and saved as PDF files, so we can control the amount of paperwork we have to maintain. If you're my customer and you want to view the documents, I can have them on your desktop in five or six minutes..

What do you do when you're not at work?

I'm a sports enthusiast, so when time allows I enjoy watching football, baseball, and other sports. I enjoy spending time with my wife and kids. And I'm an avid fisherman.

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