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Smooth Sailing

ISE Team Helps Allison Boats Navigate Changing Supply Chain

Senior design projects pair students with a company that has come to the department with a demonstrated need, giving the students real-world engineering experience and the company a solution to its issues.

This year, one such client is Allison Boats, a family-run, Blount County staple that has pioneered boat development and design since it opened in 1955.

While Allison is an industry leader with several decades’ worth of accomplishments and breakthroughs, it wasn’t immune to a problem that has plagued businesses since the first wave of the pandemic.

“They have had their prices increase drastically on parts and raw materials due to all of the supply chain challenges, and even had to change vendors for some of their parts,” said Burch Baine, ISE senior and team leader on the project. “This is compounded by having very high-quality custom boats, which makes demand forecasting very difficult.”

Joshua Lance, William White, and Moustapha Diawara rounded out the team, which worked under the direction of Adjunct Lecturer Bill Hicks.

Baine said the team’s first priority was finding a material requirements planning (MRP) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, both of which help manage inventory, planning, and scheduling.

He said step one was figuring out the issue with Allison’s current system and working with them to come up with an alternative—work they conducted with the help of Nancy Allison.

“I reached out to Bill a few years ago about doing the current project, and he and Floyd Ostrowski came out to visit with me and explain that they could use this as a project for their senior design team,” said Allison. “I really got to know the team better this second semester and we have been able to brainstorm more effectively.

After some discussion, they decided to use an MRP that was already in place to help manage the most expensive parts, which take up less space, and a Kanban system to track the rest. Under a Kanban system, supplies are introduced in a just-in-time delivery pattern to bring the correct part at the correct time.

“We ultimately chose this solution since their system could do anything others could—it just needed to be updated and revamped with how they were processing their orders,” said Baine. “After obtaining the list of materials to make their most common boat, we conducted an analysis to see which parts cost Allison the most per part and which parts costs less but make up more parts of the boat.”

What they discovered was that the vast majority of the cost of the model came from just 5 percent of its parts, while 80 percent of the parts accounted for only 5 percent of its cost.

“It is difficult to put a dollar value on the senior involvement,” said Allison. “Having another set of eyes looking for manufacturing software was helpful.”

Baine said several classes helped prepare the team for the project, including some that team members were taking as they worked on the project.

He said the biggest takeaway from their project is that you should always have more than one solution planned since you never know if your first choice is going to pan out.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed this experience with Allison Boats and getting to know Nancy Allison,” said Baine. “I’ve gotten to understand that communication with various groups of people is essential in getting anything accomplished when you have a team meeting, meeting with our teacher, and site visits each week to understand who is doing what when.”

The work of the senior design project team should help keep Allison Boats afloat for generations to come.