Monday, June 21, 2010


The buzz-word in the modern day world is “SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT” the world of business largely resigning itself to this aspect as the driver of organizations of the present and the future. Over the years many new concepts and definitions of SCM have been derived and applied for many situations in Operations. Well that a field of this nature has been recognized by modern man and its foundations being laid; it is but apt that a myriad of situations around the professional world could find applications and models in this theory.SCM is a way of life and approach to a problem in making situations lean and simple and a fool-proof approach to study and make activities more efficient and effective.

There is no other field more apt for the application of this concept as Electrical Engineering. SCM can be used to re-model the entire field of Electrical Engineering. This field of Engineering can be studied from many dimensions and very often it is so done. There can be a Mathematical approach to Electrical Engineering and as such many similar approaches. I have seen various continents look at the same field of Electrical Engineering in unique ways. Power is going to be a matter of serious concern for the world and before long there could be globalization of power in the interests of the world at large. Globalization of power would mean countries sharing their burdens of power and power generation and trading in power as any other commodity is traded. There is probably no other go for the world at least in the near term until some newer methods of large scale power generation and distribution is devised.

For a moment look at the field of Electrical Engineering only as a contrivance involved in the generation and distribution of electrical power to the exclusion of all other possible dimensions.The situation very much configures itself to problems faced in SCM; which means that all the problems faced in SCM are found in the creation and distribution of power.

Let us try to identify at least ten trends or approaches in SCM in the recent past and see how this approach can be effectively applied to the betterment of this engineering field which must be largely groping for newer methods to cope up with the challenges of the present day. Let us identify ten concepts associated with modern day SCM and they could be as follows;
  • Concept of transshipment as against transportation
  • Strategic Ware-housing
  • TQM
  •  Routing
  • Wastage Management
  • Connsumer Information System
  • Globalization of Supply Chains
  • Localised support
  • Timeliness and physical transportation of Power
  • Creation of efficiency parameters and penalty
In a country like India a large population not withstanding though the power generation and transmission issues may leave much to be desired ;let me express my deep appreciation for people who toil in this sector to keep a complex network up and going; and there are stories of few who have sacrificed their lives inadvertently coming into contact with high tension lines while discharging their occupations. Never the less there should be a large scale and a more involved approach from larger avenues to surmount problems that can arise in the future.

Let us analyse some of the points raised above and see without delay how they could be applied ;Let us take Concept of transshipment as against transportation. The supply chain of power probably evolved in the same way as Supply Chains of Business with a fixed source and fixed destination and the destinations increasing faster than the sources and stop-gap sources created to suffice the demand.This needs to be smoothened as in SCM of Business in Electrical Engineering. Every source must be linked to every destination at least theoretically and how well it can be operated in practice should be studied. As against transportation where we have dedicated source-destination equations the concept of Transshipment will render the system into a matrix of source and destinations. Simply said if a source is not able to supply power to a destination for any reason a reasonably near-by source must be able to take on the load. This interconnection must exist at all levels as possible. This also means all power stations must be connected to each other. Such a system can mean wastage of power through transmission losses but as in SCM providing the consumer with zero interruption must be the top priority of power supply chains.

The next concept of SCM is Strategic Warehousing- Which means I store when I cannot transport – and storing is done logically. This means creating a larger than life UPS system which works under HT conditions as against smaller voltages. Whenever downstram power supply is not possible stored power must come for the rescue at least for an hour. Today we pride in power-cuts with zero inclination towards the consumer and expect him to withstand outages which should be avoided in the power situation of the morrow. Somewhere transmission losses are an ongoing process and such losses can be minimized by storage. A integrated storage technology must be experimented upon and standardized. Experimentation is the need of the hour in this area of power storage especially of house-hold wattage hours but theoretically this can be done at a more global level or at a local levels.

TQM which means “Total Quality Management” refers to a quality management concept where all the stake-holders are responsible for quality. What is Quality in a Power situation is difficult to define fully. Quality could mean right frequency and voltage at all times. I have seen myself in control-rooms of enterprises where there is a swing of both these parameters. Can this problem be collectively addressed. Largely problems of Frequency and Voltage comes from imbalances in a three phase system which needs uniform loading across the phases for proper stability. The problem is to identify the stake-holders of power quality. If some stake holders were to be identified in a hurry it would point to Managers of Power Stations; Line men and similar front end workers and the general consumers of power. Power quality awareness must be created in this trio and aberrations noted and notified. Collective education initiatives however primitive in nature must be enjoined for progress in this dimension. Definitely across the power supply chain there are numerous methods and avenues for power quality improvement.

Routing is a modern day approach to SCM. It simply means creating new routes. When a particular route becomes un-operational another route is used. I have seen in many areas two transformers exist each of them supplying power to a specific region. Suppose a transformer becomes un-operational suddenly or there is single phasing ,one part of the area goes without power . All that it takes is a temporary connection from the other transformer until the problem is corrected. But this simply does not happen for interconnectivity does not exist. New routes of this kind needs to be created to ensure minimal disruption. They can be designed to work automatically .Such scenarios do exist even at larger power distribution centers where a power distribution center can take the load of another temporarily.

We have always heard of Wastage Management in many situations. How can Power Wastage be managed. There is a large scale lack of awareness in this sector and a awakening is long over-due. Power systems that work under low power-factors also waste power , so do consumers who use power without responsibility. Power wastage can be reduced through proper design of house-hold contrivances to large scale industrial equipments. Ten sectors where power can be saved needs to be addressed starting from the minimization of transmission losses to house hold prudence in the use of power. This is an area that will draw large scale attention and has a large scope for involvement and study.

All Supply Chains work with Information Systems today also called as tracking systems and we have the latest generation of Supply Chains called 4PL logistics systems.Today consumers and distributors of Electric Power are poles apart and do not communicate about service issues in real time. Just like in SCM where internet based systems are maintained for real time tracking of logistics there must a well attended and supervised information system that links Generation , distribution and consumption domains in real time. Analysing and processing this information will give fresh and ongoing insight into the synergies within these three domains.

Power supply chains should increasingly become globalized. What does this mean? Countries in the proximity to each other must share power. Before long a global power supply chain can be established cris-crossing geographical boundaries. Here the special generation abilities built over time by independent countries will help in economizing of power generation and distribution over geographies.Take a country like India which has many neighbors’ which could address jointly power issues for any possible hunch of a revised and updated methodology. Here the only problem could arise in some countries having adopted different voltage-frequency back-bone and would pose a challenge of an additional nature to ensure couplings. But eventually across the globe a single grid could be created which means proper sharing of power taking into account a larger consumption pattern spread and varying demand conditions helping in proper management of surplus and deficit situations.

For example a country whose predominant power generation is from hydel plants will find deficit power situations during lean seasons when there is inadequate water flow from reservoirs. Power could be drawn from a country which is not dependent on the rains due to its own peculiar conditions and combinations to tide over the lean season and the power could be returned when copious conditions prevail. Collective management is the need of the hour keeping in mind a global surge in power demand due to many life-style reasons of the day.

Few states in India have added localized support to ease power situations. Localised support basically means identifying areas that need surplus power and building captive generators of some kind to support existing supplies. This area needs huge research and development to identify right form of power resources that create minimum pollution and distractions. Largely power generation of this kind could be from wastes generated by other set-ups. Wind power and solar power would be the better suitors but the system must be able to provide adequate returns on financial imvestments. To start with residential areas that use only predominantly lighting loads could be considered for such outfits. These captive generating units that act as aback-up must also be linked with each other to share higher loads.

Physical Transportation of power would be the reality of our emerging world. Just like a ship carries crude from one country to another power also could be carried from one country to another through power storage devices which can be used by another country and re-sent for charging. A ship leaving Singapore could have a large power storage device which gets charged and the device is transported to another country for use as a captive power device and needs to be replenished in a timely fashion. Well would this be possible ? It must be made possible. Though this would work better in shorter geographical circuits but it still serves larger purposes of addressing power challenges.

Last but not the least Efficiency Parameters and Penalty must be created in Power distribution. Efficiency parameters would be a pointer to some bare minimum deliverables and standards. Penalty is the prerogative of the customer to penalize the power company that creates power outages. The power distribution system must be corrected from the bottom-up. Any time there is unwarranted power outages the consumer must be able to meter the duration and proportionately get a concession with the power bill. Ultimately it is Timeliness around which all modern day Supply Chain works and timeliness must be always ensured in power distribution systems. Well ! what is timeliness? Any consumer at any point of time must get power when he wants it…..which translates to almost zero outage.