The University Record, May 22, 1995

Sloan Foundation awards $2.2 million for trucking research

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

The School of Business Administration, in partnership with the College of Engineering, has been awarded $2.2 million by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to find ways the trucking industry can better support the efforts of American businesses to improve competitiveness.

The trucking service industry is a crucial and often overlooked link in boosting the performance of business as success increasingly hinges on speed and efficiency, said Business School Dean B. Joseph White. "Changes in the way business works have put the trucking industry into a more crucial and more sensitive position than ever before. Trucking service is vital support for the basic mandates of business today--things like reducing inventories, cutting production cycle times and using more external suppliers."

"Engineering is an important resource for the transport industry, and our work with the Business School and with the U-M Transportation Research Institute has always proven fruitful," said College of Engineering Interim Dean Glenn F. Knoll. "We are excited by the enhanced potential of this new collaboration, and we look forward to making solid contributions to American trucking and competitiveness."

The Sloan Foundation grant will support a pilot study by Michigan faculty and graduate students that will identify major issues facing the trucking industry. In addition to this field work, an advisory board of industry leaders will assist with the development of the industry study. Among the first issues the new program will explore are the demand for short and predictable cycle times and a profile of work force needs for today's trucking industry. Ultimately, Michigan will incorporate the study's findings into both management and engineering curricula and will share the research results with government regulators, industry and academia.

"An efficient and effective trucking service industry with a supportive infrastructure is critical to ensuring and improving the nation's competitive position in world markets," said Chelsea C. White III, research program co-director and professor of industrial and operations engineering in the College of Engineering. "Our findings will be vital both to U.S. companies and the government, enhancing government understanding of policy development related to the industry."

"The trucking industry plays a pivotal role in the U.S. economy," said Robert W. Haessler, research program co-director and associate professor of operations management at the Business School. "Virtually every product moves in a truck at some point in the chain linking producer to customer. The industry generates 80 percent of the nation's freight revenue and directly affects product costs, inventory investments, and the ability of businesses to respond quickly to changing markets."

Haessler noted that internationalization of business puts new demands on trucking just as surely as the need to improve cycle times and reduce inventories. He cited Japan's short shipping distances relative to those of American companies, as well as the growth of cross-border networks resulting from NAFTA.

The program is another in a growing list of cross-disciplinary partnerships at the U-M, this one combining the capabilities of its Business School, College of Engineering, and Transportation Research Institute. A private-industry advisory board also will work with the program. "This kind of interdisciplinary approach is vital to research and training, and the Sloan Foundation grant is another significant step in Michigan's furtherance of this approach," White said.

The Sloan Foundation supports 10 centers nationwide, including the new center at Michigan, for the study of industries that are key to overall improvements in U.S. competitiveness.