How I Found Supply Chain

Jason Robke
The Boeing Company

Three years ago, if someone asked what industry I would be working in upon graduation, supply chain management (SCM) would not have been at the top of the list.

My name is Jason Robke and I am a Data Scientist working for The Boeing Company in St. Louis, Missouri. Upon graduation with my Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) in June, 2015, I accepted a position in SCM. My introduction to supply chain management came in my sophomore year of college, when I received the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research through the Discovery Fellows program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I was fortunate enough to be paired with Dr. Mustafa Sir and Dr. Jim Noble in the Industrial Engineering department and placed on their Bayer CropScience CELDi project.

First off, a little background. CELDi is the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution (www.celdi.org). It is a university-company consortium sponsored by the National Science Foundation, where member companies pair with a university and provide applied research projects. The university research team in turn delivers innovative solutions to real world problems, in areas ranging from supply chain management to material handling. Many projects are used as the basis for master’s theses or doctoral dissertations.

The project with Bayer investigated a new seed treatment product and how to best distribute the companion machines to coat seeds, as well as the chemicals themselves, to cover all sales regions. Mizzou’s project delivered a fully customizable computer program that allowed users to enter items such as anticipated market share or seed density per acre for various crops. The program returned demand forecast for chemicals, as well as the number of machines needed to fulfill this demand. It has since been implemented within Bayer and continues to be utilized today.

Near the end of that year, Dr. Noble received an email from Boeing regarding an internship in St. Louis in the supply chain management department. I was able to secure that internship, and in preparation, Dr. Noble moved me from supporting Bayer to supporting his Boeing research.

During my time with Boeing while in college, I worked on two main projects. The first was a reverse logistics network design, where the team designed a customized computer program allowing the company to examine its reverse logistics (aka repair parts) network. The program allowed users to analyze a wide variety of options, from differing modes of transportation to standing up new distribution centers, and pick the most efficient option. The second project involved utilizing Bayes’ Rule to improve demand forecasts, by updating projected failure rates based on actual part failures as they occurred.

The benefit of the CELDi Mizzou-Boeing partnership was rather than a three month internship, I essentially enjoyed a two year internship. When summer ended, I headed back to Mizzou and continued working on the project as a student, under the direction of Dr. Noble. When the school year ended, I returned to Boeing as an intern and continued to support the projects as an employee. This extended internship played a crucial role in my development, from focusing on data manipulation as a sophomore to taking ownership of a project by the time I was a senior.

There is a perception that the supply chain industry involves sitting at a desk crunching numbers in Excel all day, every day. While I do utilize Excel frequently, supply chain management is much more. Supply chain management provides a wide variety of projects in diverse areas, from distribution network optimization to demand forecasting to inventory management to materials planning. Each of these areas presents a different set of challenges, so no two projects are exactly the same. Every day presents a new and complex problem waiting to be solved.