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Inspiring Everyday: Taking the complex and making it simple

It is easy to take shipping for granted. You click a button to complete a purchase, and two days later a box arrives at your door. In fact, logistics is a complicated science involving the flow of materials from production to packaging to warehousing to delivery.

Smooth logistics is key to a customer-focused strategy. When Nikki Huffman saw an opportunity to streamline Ascend’s operations, she recognized a chance to make transformational improvements at the Pensacola site.

Taking the complex and making it simple

Nikki’s idea was simple: Skip the warehousing step by moving products straight from packaging to shipping. Getting it done, however, was more complicated. She tackled that challenge with her A2E black belt project, Direct Ship.

As a senior production manager in Pensacola, she knew it would take an understanding of the complete path of the product to make sure one change in a process didn’t disrupt something else down the line.

Analyzing those complex processes meant pulling together the right group. “Sometimes the best ideas die because you don’t bring together all the right people,” Nikki said. “To make the project successful, it was critical to put the right team in place."

Putting together a team is something Nikki excels at, according to Tom Boggs, Ascend’s director of global compounding operations, who has worked with her for 20 years. “Nikki’s own team loves her, and people across the site see her as a real leader and a person they can trust,” Tom said.

It is something she has been doing since she was a child. “I used to get the neighborhood kids together to do math problems,” she said, laughing. “My mom would come home and find everybody sitting in the playroom with me at the front writing on the chalkboard.”

Data-driven decisions

Nikki and the team were able to accomplish the Direct Ship project in just six months. “We are essentially bypassing the warehouse,” Nikki said. “Skipping that step allows us to move much more quickly.”

Direct Ship also opened opportunities for other efficiencies. Cutting back on the amount of inventory traveling through the warehouse freed other resources, leading to improvements ranging from faster fulfillment to a reduction in off-site storage costs. “With streamlined warehouse operations, products scheduled to be shipped move in and out much more quickly,” Nikki said.

Another benefit: Less handling means less risk of damage. “We went from touching the product eight to nine times to once or twice,” she said. “Besides a quality improvement, this is also a huge safety improvement.”

With the new process in place, Nikki continues to work hard to make her team, the product and the company better every day. “We’ve put systems in place to close gaps and created dashboards of real-time data to help us make more timely decisions,” Nikki said. “Now that we have the right metrics, we know what we need to achieve for both short and long-term goals.”