In today’s competitive construction economy, improving on-site management of project equipment, supplies and process is now critical. With help from Fluor Corp., Clemson University has developed the first online graduate degree program in capital project supply- chain management for construction professionals. The Clemson, S.C.-based program borrows heavily from proven industrial engineering approaches.
“It’s a breakthrough that this industry needs,” says James A. Scotti, senior vice president and chief procurement officer at Irving, Texas-based Fluor. To launch the program, the constructor in 2007 provided $2 million, matched by another $2 million in state funds. The infusion created the Fluor Endowed Chair of Supply Chain and Logistics within Clemson’s industrial engineering department.
Fluor helped build the curriculum, which includes 10 online courses taken one at a time and three per year over 40 months. Tuition costs about $2,300 per course. Students can access courses on demand via online videos and communicate with faculty through e-mail or chat technology, plus download modules for viewing on laptops or iPods. Enrollees need not be degreed engineers but must be working professionals with relevant industry experience and math ability consistent with an engineering, business or management degree, says a program brochure. On-campus Clemson students are not eligible.
Brad Barton, a supply-chain practice leader at CSC, an IT services consulting firm in Falls Church, Va., says the downturn has forced all companies to review supply-chain management costs. In a survey of 160 clients last year, CSC found 80% deemed that necessary to reduce cost structures and inventory levels while adding revenue to the top line.
Participants are taught the fundamental techniques and concepts of supply-chain management, which originated in production settings and has been refined for construction, says William G. Ferrell Jr., department director. Building a nuclear plant and addressing how Wal-Mart distributes product from China through stores may seem radically different on the surface, he says. “But truth be told, they are quite similar.”
Courses focus on the sequence of processes required to obtain materials and arrange transportation and installation at jobsites using industrial engineering techniques to streamline tasks. “Whether we are getting customers on rides at Disney World or trying to get construction sites the right materials at the right time, we are improving processes,” says Scott J. Mason, the program’s first chairman and a former industrial engineering professor at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Clemson says more than 100 students from around the globe now are enrolled. They include employees of Fluor and other industry firms, such as Jacobs Engineering Group, Kiewit, CH2M Hill and WorleyParsons as well as The Boeing Co., ExxonMobil and BMW Group. Students completing coursework receive a master’s of engineering degree in industrial engineering. The first class is set to graduate in December 2011. “The knowledge they will gain from this program will be big time to the industry and to their employers,” says Scotti.