October 2003 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Sandy Chavis: To the Line, Just in Time

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In 1995, Sandy Chavis took on a new challenge: creating a logistics department at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM).

Until then, purchasing staff who procured parts, raw materials, and supplies for the forklift truck manufacturer also handled the transportation of those goods. But as TIEM started buying more parts in the United States instead of Japan, as it started receiving more of those parts in returnable containers, and as it established daily "milk runs" to truck in parts and return those containers, the logistics function grew so big, it needed its own department.

Today, Chavis and her staff of 23 run a tight, just-in-time operation at TIEM's Columbus, Ind., plant. Chavis works with a coordinator, Vascor Ltd., to manage the seven daily milk runs that bring parts from 60 suppliers in 10 states. She choreographs deliveries to the plant and to a warehouse a short distance away, plus 20 daily truckloads of goods that move from the warehouse to the plant.

Getting parts to the production lines just as they're needed demands meticulous planning and execution, not to mention solid cooperation. "You have to depend on your associates, your suppliers, and your warehouse to deliver on time," Chavis says. "There's very little room for error."

In an effort to prevent errors from occurring, Chavis maintains precise schedules at TIEM's four receiving docks. She meets regularly with Vascor to fine-tune the milk runs as transportation needs change. She rides herd on the kanban system, which uses printed cards to reorder parts as soon as they're used. Staff continually collect these cards and place orders by faxing or e-mailing images of them to suppliers. When the plant needs certain parts in a hurry, Chavis and her staff supervise the expedited transportation.

Rush orders are standard features of the job. Although the kanban system is designed to maintain a steady stream of parts, inevitably a few of those cards get misplaced. When that happens, "you don't know you're going to run out of a part until you run out," Chavis says. "So my group immediately has to get on the phone and start expediting."

The parts control group, which Chavis also heads, works with the logistics department to speed orders. "We have many 6 a.m. deliveries via expedited or overnight service," she says. "Expedited services are more costly, but they're worth the price to keep manufacturing running."

With timing so crucial, weather is a major concern, and on winter mornings Chavis makes a weather site her first stop on the Internet. Several years ago, a crippling blizzard in Kentucky shut down production at TIEM for a day, even though Indiana had no snow emergency at all. The storm tied up several truckloads of steel due in from Louisville, and without that steel, TIEM couldn't build forklifts.

"We ran down to the last minute without having parts shortages," before finally shutting down, Chavis says.

But that didn't earn Chavis a quiet day at home. "I still had all my other trucks coming in," and someone had to be there to receive the goods, she says. Also, "we had a couple of milk runs that came up through Kentucky," and they had to be rerouted.

Drama of this sort keeps the job exciting. "I love logistics because you shift gears constantly, almost every minute of the day," Chavis says. "You just never know what's going to happen."

The Big Questions

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

I read. I golf: that's my quality time with my husband on weekends. I'm a big NASCAR fan. I do a lot of family things—cookouts, get-togethers. And I love gardening. I'll go home at night and just walk around my yard and pull a few weeds. It's kind of a stress relief.

What's in your briefcase right now?

I don't take it home every night, but when I do carry my briefcase, of course it has all the dock schedules. I throw my Palm Pilot in there and my day planner. It also has a ruler, lots of pens and pencils, business cards, highlighters, and notepads. It may have my book, or my lunch. And one of those little umbrellas.

What are you reading?

No Second Chance by Harlan Coben.

Advice for people starting in logistics?

Always be ready for the challenge, ready to shift gears and have the mindset of a multitask person. Logistics is very tense and stressful. But it's very exciting.

Business motto?

Safety, service, and quality.

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