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Supply Chain Secrets

Developments to Watch


THERE'S PLENTY OF ROOM for mistakes, delays, and cost overruns in the supply chain that stretches from raw materials to delivered product, as anyone involved in corporate logistics can attest. According to Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath Inc. (PRTM), a Weston (Mass.) high-tech consultancy, differences in logistics costs between the best-performing company and an average company in one U.S. industry amount to 6% of the average company's total revenue.

To put more logic into logistics, PRTM helped form the Supply-Chain Council, which met for the first time in April. Among its 54 founding members are Amoco, Procter & Gamble, L.L. Bean, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eastman Kodak, and Texas Instruments. The council plans to study and write up the methods that successful companies use. The "reference model" will be distributed free of charge to any interested company when it is completed, around November.

Even well-run companies should be able to pick up pointers from the reference model, says F. William Helming, PRTM's representative on the council. PRTM's co-organizer, Boston-based Advanced Manufacturing Research, will help such software developers as Germany's SAP incorporate the reference model into their supply-chain programs.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


THE "FRESH" FISH IN YOUR favorite restaurant could be 6 to 10 days post mortem when it reaches your plate after processing, transportation, and layovers at a wholesaler and a distributor. Still, choosy chefs shy away from the alternative: frozen fish. Ice crystals that form during freezing cause cell membranes to leak, making the fish soft and tasteless.

To satisfy delicate palates, New York-based Trufresh Group LLC is pushing an alternative freezing method that's so fast, ice crystals don't have a chance to form. The fish is plunged into a slurry of frozen brine crystals at about -40F. As the slurry liquefies, it rapidly absorbs heat from the fish. Seth Simmerman, food and beverage director of the Rivers Club in Pittsburgh, says Trufresh fish tastes fresher than most never-frozen fish.

Trufresh is the exclusive North American licensee of Nissin Gourmet Beef of Osaka, Japan, which uses the patented freezing method for sushi tuna and beef. Precisely sized and cleaned Trufresh salmon fillets cost restaurants about $6 a pound. In comparison, raw salmon costs around $2.60 a pound, but nearly half its weight is lost in cleaning.

Trufresh fish isn't sold in supermarkets. Most freezer cases have a daily defrost cycle that spoils Trufresh by causing it to thaw out and then refreeze the slow way.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


ENGINEERS ONCE ASSUMED THAT STRESS-RELATED CRACKS in bridges or airplane wings branched raggedly because of impurities in the materials. Raise the purity, the theory went, and cracks would propagate in straight lines.

Recent simulations of fracture patterns, however, suggest a very different story. Farid F. Abraham, a physicist at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., used a parallel supercomputer to create models of solids such as nickel (graphic). In the models, tens of millions of atoms are represented by small colored balls imbued with atom-like properties of attraction and repulsion. Applying simulated stress, Abraham found that the balls separate along irregular, "nonlinear" fault lines.

Abraham's models are highly idealized: They consist of just one atomic layer, and the balls are not programmed to express quirky, quantum-mechanical behavior. Abraham is adding up to 100 atomic layers. And in his next model, which he will create with researchers at Harvard, Brown, Stanford, and the Naval Research Laboratory, he will start to incorporate quantum effects. The goal is a theory of cracks that could predict--and ultimately prevent--certain types of fractures.EDITED BY PETER COY By Neil GrossReturn to top

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