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Supply Chain Managers


The Industrial Revolution brought about machinery that could mass produce products and goods, laying the groundwork for the supply chain field. Manufacturing processes became more efficient as machinery was introduced that required fewer workers. For instance, the cotton gin sped up the removal of seeds from cotton and the spinning jenny sped up the production of yarn. Developments in transportation, such as steamships, railroads, and airplanes, also helped to expand the manufacturing industry, making it possible for materials, supplies, and products to be procured and transported to more regions of the United States and around the world.

One area of supply chain managers' work is logistics. The term that emerged from military operations in the 1900s. The military used logistics to transport the correct number of men, machinery, and supplies to the correct place and at the correct time during campaigns. By the 1950s, logistics had entered the business world, with companies applying the analysis and coordination tactics to business operations to improve production and material handling.

In the 1960s, freight that had to be delivered within certain time frames was transported by trucks rather than railways. This gave rise to what became known as "physical distribution" and cemented the need for professionals who could coordinate and manage the production process, material handling, freight transportation, and warehousing. The National Council of Physical Distribution Management was established at this time to help create standards and guidelines for this new area of business. Starting in the 1970s, distribution, transportation, and supply managers used computers for transactions, truck routing and scheduling, supply and product inventory, record keeping, and other aspects of management and coordination. The growth of personal computers in the 1980s gave business managers even more computer-based tools to help them in their work, including software for spreadsheets and map-based interfaces for supply chain management and logistics.

The National Council of Physical Distribution Management changed its name to the Council of Logistics Management in the 1980s to reflect the business focus at that time. Companies included training programs for logistics and operations planning in their budgets, and software was introduced for logistics planning, such as Material Requirements Planning (MRP), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) systems.  

The manufacturing industry grew further in the 1990s and early 2000s, with especially dramatic growth in U.S. imports from China (from $45 billion in 1995 to more than $280 billion in 2006). This growth increased the need for professional supply chain managers to coordinate and manage complex business processes, particularly those that conduct business in different countries.

Supply chain management gained ground as a distinct business discipline. To reflect this new focus, the Council of Logistics Management became the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals in 2005. The distinction between logistics and supply chain management, as the Council describes it, is: “Logistics is that part of the supply chain process that plans, implements, and controls the efficient, effective forward and reverse flow and storage of goods, services, and related information between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet customers’ requirements. … Supply Chain Management is the systemic, strategic coordination of the traditional business functions and the tactics across these business functions within a particular company and across businesses within the supply chain for the purposes of improving the long-term performance of the individual companies and the supply chain as a whole.”

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