There is an old expression in volunteer-driven organizations that if you need good help, look for a person who already feels “too busy.”
This conventional wisdom paid off in spades for the people who manage an annual event called the Winter Simulation Conference (WSC). For the past three decades, WSC organizers have benefited from the talents and boundless energy of Wilson College of Textiles Professor Jeff Joines.
Joines, department head of the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science, first attended the conference as an NC State graduate student in 1991. He loved the experience and has attended every conference since then, always playing an active role as a program planner or speaker. His volunteer work was recognized in December when he received the James R. Wilson WSC Board of Directors Award.
While the conference is held each year, the award itself is given as often as WSC board members want to recognize exceptionally meritorious service. Joines’ exceptional service has come in the form of being an author, session chair, track coordinator, proceedings editor and program chair, along with 10 years of service on the WSC board.
In 2005, Professor Emeritus James R. Wilson himself won the award, which was then renamed in his honor. Wilson is not a member of the family for which the Wilson College is named. His name is familiar at NC State, however, because of his distinguished teaching career in the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, from which he retired three years ago.
Unlike many other conferences that attract scientists, engineers, practitioners and academics, the WSC is not organized by a single professional society. Rather, it’s managed by a large consortium of professional groups.
Joines is aware that many people do not know what “simulation” entails. He explains that a simulation specialist is one who studies the mechanics of any particular industrial or customer service process with an eye toward enhancing efficiency.
Representatives of the U.S. government and military, along with other industries such as automotive, aerospace, textiles and semiconductor, have long been involved in WSC. The successful application of simulation principles, however, can make a difference in simpler settings.
“Picture yourself as a grocery store manager,” Joines says. “You need cashiers, stockers, baggers and a whole variety of other employees. The big question, though, is how many of each do you need on duty at any given time? You do not want employees standing around idle, but you cannot afford to anger your customers by making them stand around in long lines. This is where simulation specialists earn their keep. Their motto is: ‘Anywhere there’s a process, we can improve it.’”
Joines, who teaches Lean, Six Sigma and simulation, says the holy grail of simulation work is figuring out how to optimize systems that have conflicting objectives like reducing inventory without cutting service.
One of Joines’ most important projects at WSC was one in which he himself had to use his information skills to devise a better process. The problem at hand was that collecting and distributing academic papers to conference referees was time-consuming and expensive. The accepted papers are then organized into select topics for each year’s event.
Joines figured out how to automate the process by creating a one-of-a-kind online submission and paper management system that served WSC for a full decade before it had to be updated. Not surprisingly, he then helped with the technical work needed to transition the old system over to a new commercial one, which incorporated many of Joines’ ideas.
Professor Jeffrey Smith, a fellow WSC board member from Auburn University, says Joines’ contributions to the conference are “unmatched.” He says Joines has always been the first to volunteer for new tasks and “the go-to person for any assignment that needed to be done right.”
Joines has strongly advocated tailoring the conference content to attract more practitioners and participants from other nations. The conference is held in American cities most years, but he helped arrange it in Berlin in 2012 and in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2018. It’s scheduled for Singapore in 2022.
Joines says NC State’s longstanding support for WSC has made a huge difference in enhancing the university’s image internationally. “Because of our long history of involvement in this conference,” he says, “the great work being done at NC State is known virtually all over the world.”