Senthil Arumugam: Building a Better Way

Senthil Arumugam: Building a Better Way

Senthil Arumugam is vice president of logistics and inventory management at US LBM Holdings, in Buffalo Grove, Ill. He has held this position since 2012.

Responsibilities: Benchmarking best practices, implementing technology, consulting on supply chain and continuous improvement, developing mobile applications.

Experience: Lean materials coordinator, Alliance Laundry Systems; senior Lean consultant, Caledonia Group; director, logistics and inventory management, US LBM Holdings.

Education: BE, mechanical engineering, PSG College of Technology (India), 2001; MS, industrial engineering, specialization in supply chain management and manufacturing systems, Georgia Tech, 2003.

US LBM Holdings currently consists of 12 building material distributors operating 60 locations across the United States. Our customers include builders and remodelers working on single- and multi-family homes and commercial buildings. Each distributor runs independently, serving its local market with its own delivery fleet and dispatching operation.

In my current position, I have three main responsibilities. First is keeping our locations and markets at the forefront of technology with strategic initiatives to serve customers better and faster.

Second is designing business processes that help our companies measure, manage, and improve operations, while sharing best practices. For example, how does one location load a truck and turn it around in 30 minutes, when it takes another company 60 minutes?

My third role involves facilitating kaizen events and other Lean initiatives for the distributors’ operations as part of our corporate continuous improvement program.

My biggest project recently was implementing a delivery management system for our companies. After six months of evaluation, we chose the Descartes Route Planner from Descartes Systems Group. We have rolled it out at most of our older locations, while continuing to integrate it into our newer acquisitions.

This implementation is challenging because our companies sell so many different kinds of product—lumber, roofing, siding, cabinetry, windows, and others. We need a wide variety of trucks to accommodate product differences. Most delivery management systems aren’t designed to work with such complex fleets.

We needed software to choose the right truck for the right materials—a boom truck to load shingles onto a roof, for example. The system had to account for each truck’s weight and volume capacity, and for the time needed to load and unload specific products.

The system we chose had the necessary framework, but had never been implemented in the building materials industry. We did a lot of creative engineering to customize the software to meet our delivery scheduling needs.

As we continue to roll out this end-to-end delivery solution, change management poses an important challenge. To date, most of our locations used paper and pushpins to schedule deliveries. That process didn’t let us share information with customers or measure performance.

The new system allows for real improvement, but represents a big shift in skills for many dispatchers. We have to develop good training programs, customized to the needs of individuals with different experience levels.

Using data from the delivery system, we built an iPhone application that provides real-time delivery tracking and notifications. We are proud of the early adoption rate and positive customer feedback.

The Big Questions

Have you learned any lessons through on-the-job experience?

When you’re leading a major initiative, there is no such thing as too much communication. You have to keep stakeholders informed about all developments—both good and bad.

If you could go back to school for fun, what would you study?

History and culture.

How do you relieve stress?

By spending time with my five-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. I also like meditating and running.

What are your personal goals?

I’d like to take a career break to travel with my family. I would especially like to use the skills I’ve gained in my career to contribute to my native country, India.

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