Mobilizing Analytics Unchains Logistics Supervisors from Their Desks

The Cat Parts Distribution facility in Morton, Illinois, is an important hub in Caterpillar's global parts distribution network, which ships 22,000 parts per day.  

In other words, a lot is taking place in the two-million-square foot factory at any given time. 

"We work to optimize productivity and minimize disturbances to normal operations, which have the potential to affect Cat® dealers or customers,” said Cat Parts Distribution Director Barb Hodel.  “Unforeseen events such as system errors or staffing issues could lead to orders not being shipped on time. So, when the unexpected happens in Morton, the quick response of supervisors makes all the difference."

Currently, logistics supervisors can feel chained to their laptops and monitors if they need access to the real-time status of an area’s progress toward productivity targets during a shift. When the supervisor needs to leave his or her area, there’s no view of productivity, or worse, of critical orders coming through for parts, unless he or she calls a team lead. So the question arose: What if supervisors had access to mobile, real-time information?

That’s where the Caterpillar Data Innovation Lab came in. The lab at the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign, Illinois, provides an isolated and safe environment to focus on the exploration of emerging and disruptive data-based technologies, as well as advanced analytics technologies.

Taking just one day in the Data Innovation Lab, teams brainstormed which predictive and real-time analytics would enable supervisors in the distribution facility to streamline operations by improving productivity and staff allocation. Five days later, two working prototypes of apps were deployed to mobile devices for user feedback and further design refinement. Real environment testing began in late September within Cat Parts Distribution.

The app pulls in real-time data, enabling logistics supervisors to make mobile data-centric decisions, instead of relying on traditional desktop reports and dashboards. Several distribution center supervisors are excited: The outcome looks very promising for big improvements towards increased productivity.

“App functions work together to provide a snapshot of the entire operation from anywhere, at any time,” said Yvonne Mahoney, a rotational supervisor at the Miami Distribution Center.

When fully operational, the app can be implemented in distribution centers across the globe at minimal cost to create exponential value. 

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