Supply chain management class learns practical applications of concepts during business executive visit

The vice president of operations at AKG of America visited Elon to discuss career opportunities in the supply chain industry.

By: Erin Manchuso '19

Luca Romano, vice president of operations at AKG of America, a privately-owned manufacturer of high-performance motor- and engine-cooling systems, spoke on April 15 to Operations and Supply Chain Management students about the role of supply chain management in manufacturing operations.

Romano has spent his career elevating manufacturing performance and company profitability at firms across the southeastern United States and Italy. With an undergraduate degree in engineering and industrial management, he began his career as a manufacturing engineer and worked his way up the ranks. Prior to joining AKG of America in 2016, Romano spent a number of years turning around the world’s largest dry ice plant and steering operations back to profitability through overhauling its supply chain operations.

Romano began his discussion in Assistant Professor of Marketing Prachi Gala’s class by giving students an overview of his responsibilities as head of operations. “I oversee our facilities, equipment and personnel; work to maintain low production costs while ensuring a high quality, finished product; and timely order fulfillment at AKG of America’s Mebane plant,” he said.

In his role, Romano shared he works closely with employees at every stage of the manufacturing process from start to finish to uphold efficient and high-quality work.

He then dove into more depth about AKG of America’s supply chain and operations management. Within a larger pool of competition, Romano shared AKG of America has found its niche in producing top quality cooling systems for luxury automakers and large industrial clients. Orders for these types of clients tend to be smaller but require high levels of customization, he explained, in order to tailor the product to more specialized needs.

This need for high levels of customization greatly impacts the physical supply chain. Assembly lines and computer programming need to be altered to each product’s specifications, which takes time and flexibility. In the end, this results in a more manual manufacturing process to best meet order demand.

Major industry constraints, Romano noted, continue to be associated with its highly manual manufacturing process. The industry is slow to react to quick changes in demand and quick changes in labor demand to fulfill orders. With the unemployment rate in the United States reaching its lowest point in decades, it is becoming a challenge to hire qualified workers to meet these changing demands.

“The manufacturing industry is experiencing a growing skills gap, where young professionals are shying away from technical jobs," Romano said. "The average age of a welder in the United States is 55 years and the U.S. is expected to be short of 291,000 welders by 2020.”

Given the labor-intensive process at AKG of America, this growing gap is hurting its ability to fill empty positions and meet the needs of growing demand, he said. These labor-related constraints have sparked an industrywide movement toward advanced artificial intelligence within the manufacturing space to take the place of highly specialized manufacturing needs currently occupied by humans, he explained.

Following the discussion, Romano fielded student questions about his career path, application of supply chain strategies and career advice.

When asked about what qualities he looks for in applicants, Romano responded, “The ability to carry yourself well, take criticism, and communicate concepts verbally.” Employers do not expect new hires to know everything before starting a position, but they seek out applicants with growth mindsets, he said.