Guest Commentary: What Do Racecars and Eggs Have in Common?

As the chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup comes into a full swing, drivers like Denny Hamlin, Jimmy Johnson and Kevin Harvick are all contenders with the same question on their minds: “Will my car hold up when I need it most?” These drivers, along with another 77, all rely on the same critical component of the race car each week – the tires – which ensure each and every lap is a safe one. There is only a single tire sponsor for the NASCAR race circuit, and the pressure that company faces is tremendous when the lives and careers of drivers rides on their product.

Earlier this year, drivers were going through tires as often as Brett Favre changes his mind on retirement, and many racers and pit crews were placing the blame on NASCAR’s tire sponsor. During the Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, several drivers blew tires on the track, and driver Ryan Newman didn’t hold anything back when asked about tire performance. It was only later that officials discovered all of the faulty tires for that day’s race came from the same lot.

Now, I don’t work in a pit crew, and I don’t administrate NASCAR, but I can tell you how the problem can be solved. A few weeks back, I was talking with some of my co-workers about the benefits of a centralized inventory repository, where manufacturers and their suppliers could go to get a better picture of the resources and information available to them. I don’t think its rocket science applying the same solution in this case: A central data repository would allow NASCAR’s tire sponsor to track down the specific lot that contained the faulty tires. It would also allow everyone involved to quickly determine which tires and how many were sold to specific team owners and their drivers. And most importantly, those tires could be tracked all the way back to the manufacturing lines where they were produced so corrective action could be applied to eliminate the problem next time.

It’s a situation not so far removed from the recent egg recall. In that instance, a central data repository could have been used to help speed up the detection of contaminated eggs. And moreover, sharing that data among retailers and farmers would have enabled a speedier identification of which farms were the sources of the issue, and what distribution networks put those eggs at the point of sale. The time and money spent to control the recall could have been lessened, and the number of people infected overall could have been reduced.

A myriad of benefits could come from a repository like that. Just imagine if there was a single, hosted, secured solution that would support customer and partner on-boarding through configurable workflows, with available information including four-wall inventory, in-transit quantities, shipped history, production receipts, and component tracking within a finished good all in one place. And best of all, secured and accurate! Such a solution, which some companies are already putting together, could provide entire supply chains with the ability to orchestrate alerts about holds and recalls with trading partners operating other solutions. Doing so would in turn enable manufacturers and retailers to capture point-of-sale data, driving inventory levels needed within distribution facilities for accurate and efficient product scheduling. The result could mean a single point of ASN generation for top retailers, who would then be able to deal with label formats and changes themselves, instead of wasting time asking their suppliers to do it on their behalf.

But to be honest, I’m a lot more interested in NASCAR. So let’s get back to the race track…

The last 10 races this year will be won and lost based on tire performance – The ability to run more laps on fewer tire changes. Total and complete safety on a race track is by no means guaranteed. However, pushing for an expanded level of visibility into the components that keep drivers buckled in their cars isn’t a fruitless endeavor. There will always come a time when manufacturers need to figure out what went wrong on a production line. Nobody’s perfect. But the companies winning or losing the battle to efficiently manage and control recall will hinge their futures on the ability to acquire specific data about where and how their goods are produced.  For all of you race fans out there, it’s been another great year with a strong finish for the title in the coming weeks. To quote Darrell Waltrip, “”Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys!”

Scott Zickert is the Product Manager for Distribution Products at RedPrairie Corporation. He is responsible for driving and overseeing RedPrairie’s product suite of WMS, WFM, Enterprise Applications and Slotting. He can be reached at scott.zickert@redprairie.com.

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