Thursday, December 11, 2014

Holiday Cookie Supply Chains - Putting Operations Research into Practice

This morning I gave the final exam to my Logistics & Transportation students and also collected their project papers, which I am enjoying reading very much.

The field of Logistics & Transportation has so many great applications!

And, since this is the holiday season, it is a perfect time for putting Operations Research into practice by executing my holiday cookie supply chain.

I must admit, since my students have been so good this semester, I spoiled them today. The exam was at 8AM so they needed some support. I brought in the holiday cookies below, which I baked last night after a day filled with meetings. Several of the students used the "carrot" of a cookie as a reward for finishing the exam whereas some indulged even before.
The raspberry filled cookies above are Swedish cookies from a recipe that my wonderful Office Manager at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg provided me with (and she even gave me a plate of them that she had baked about a year ago - so special)!

A holiday cookie supply chain just may be the most delicious one - I had to, first,  procure the ingredients: the flour, sugar, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, eggs, plus marzipan, almond paste, candied cherries, M&Ms for decorating (the mitten cookies above), pecans, rum, walnuts, coconut, chocolate, corn syrup, maraschino cherries, and raspberry jam. These are the major ingredients of my holiday cookie supply chain this year. And, of course, you need parchment paper (a savior for professional bakers as well as me since it saves the cookies and reduces cleaning time), wax paper (for rolling out nicely the shaped cookies), cookie baking trays, a rolling pin, cookie cutters,  and nice plates,  wrapping paper, and ribbons for the deliveries.

When we research and teach about  product supply chains I always emphasize the production processes and I have felt like a cookie manufacturer lately.  The production process is very much an assembly line process but there are tasks that one does simultaneously - for example, while batches are baking, I am preparing the next batch. Since many cookies bake quite quickly - such as the ones pictured above (about 13 minutes), one can  do the processing quite efficiently. Plus, rum balls don't need to be baked and are favorites among our neighbors!

Then there is the cooling, and,  in the case of my famous rum balls, it is actually best if they are stored for a few days - so storage is another important activity.

Below are some of the cookies that I have baked this holiday season - all gone!
 Packaging is another enjoyable aspect of processing holiday cookies.

And, of course, distribution is what gets the cookies delivered to the consumers! In my case, so far this year, there have been many deliveries - to our wonderful neighbors, to the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter members and guests at our party last Friday, and to my students today! Plus, rather than just local deliveries, we have also made some shipments through mail.
There is nothing like putting Operations Research into practice for the enjoyment of many! Besides, what is better than playing with dough and decorating cookies during a time in the academic calendar that is quite hectic!

Happy Holidays!