Creating Target Solutions: Insights from the winning 2023 Tauber Team Project

Ann Arbor – When faced with operational challenges, Target turned to a talented group of graduate students from the University of Michigan's Tauber Institute for Global Operations. Armed with degrees in industrial and operations engineering, this includes Alexios Avrassoglou, Santiago Currea, and Austin Tauber (no relation), who additionally holds a degree in chemical engineering.

Their project largely focused on resolving issues with trailers arriving at Target distribution centers from third-party facilities. 

Trailers coming from these 3PL facilities make up 43% of the RDC network’s volume, and often contain unpredictable loads that do not group like items, mix conveyable and non-conveyable cartons, and generally slow down team members from unloading and processing. It is estimated that over $20MM can be saved annually in labor by processing freight faster through better-sequenced trailers.

Despite the lack of previous attempts at quantifying the negative impact these trailers posed on the unloading team members, the group rose to the occasion, spearheading initiatives to explore the problem. The team took it upon themselves to identify and overcome these obstacles, starting with unloading trailers themselves to truly comprehend the daily experiences of the distribution center team.


"We focused on trying to figure out all the problems of trailers that were coming from third-party facilities to target distribution centers," said Alexios. "There hadn't been a previous attempt to try to quantify the negative impact that those trailers were having at Target RDCs on the team members who were unloading these trailers. From there, we spent the summer trying to do a variety of things to figure out why."

The team conducted waste observations and performed time studies on the floor in a Target RDC to identify current issues with loads coming from CONS facilities. 

Santiago voiced his excitement about the hands-on experience he gained from working directly in the Target distribution center as well as other 3PL facilities. "We were able to take some time to unload a trailer ourselves, which is a unique experience and something I've never done before. I've never been in a facility like that, and it allows you to bond with the team members who do it every day. It goes to show how important the criteria that we're imposing on these trailers will be to the people who experience them every day." 

Austin echoed this, revealing that the immersive experience granted them newfound empathy for the team members, and fueled their motivation to significantly enhance the lives of these essential workers. "It was very interesting getting to see how all the various teams within such a big company work together, and it was cool trying to connect the expertise of all those different teams and come up with one set of solutions based on all our discussions with all these different teams across the company."

Target’s continued implementation of the optimal freight presentation criteria and strategies is expected to generate $60.7MM in labor savings over the next three years by sorting like items, floor loading, and separating conveyable and non-conveyable freight.

Beyond their direct work, the graduates praised the collaborative experience of operating within such a large company, allowing them the ability to integrate expertise from various teams into their solutions. Support was never lacking, they emphasized, as they were able to consult with anyone about any question.

The graduates admitted that the project was initially overwhelming but offered some advice for future students. Alexios advised trusting in the process, however overwhelming the tasks might seem at first. Santiago highlighted the importance of forming robust relationships with team members, while Austin emphasized an openness to learning.

This project has not only helped Target, but it has also empowered these recent graduates with invaluable experience as they move forward in their respective careers. The trio's project won the 2023 Spotlight! Competition, and have all accepted full-time positions at Target. Their input is a testament to the practical and impactful learning embodied by the Tauber Institute for Global Operations.

Watch the interview here:

More information on Tauber Team Projects

The Tauber Institute develops and delivers superior talent utilizing the strengths of Michigan's top-ranked business and engineering schools overlaid with a comprehensive leadership development program.