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Where is Apple’s Commitment to U.S. Manufacturing?

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Our previous Supply Chain Matters commentary noted that Apple is in the process of marshalling its vast supply chain scale in ramping-up for the pending introduction of new iPhone and other products while stoking consumer demand for the upcoming holiday buying surge. Upwards of 110,000 or considerably more additional workers are being marshalled to support production ramp-up while suppliers themselves reap the benefits of orders exceeding 100 million units.

In December 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook conducted a series of orchestrated media interviews that included an announcement that Apple planned to invest upwards of $100 million to build Mac computers in the U.S. Our Supply Chain matters commentary at that time reflected on one interview conducted by NBC News anchor Brain Williams. Below is an excerpt of that commentary:

There were statements by Cook that, in our view, were somewhat on the mark and deserve amplification.  Brian Williams asked in the Rock Center interview- What would be the financial impact to the product if, for example, the production of iPhones were shifted to the U.S.?  Cook’s response was that rather than a price impact, the real issues reflect a skills challenge.  Skills were identified as the existence of talented manufacturing process engineers, as well as experienced manufacturing workers.  Cook pointed to deficiencies in the U.S. educational system, as well as the ongoing challenge of recruiting skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S.  Great answer!  But perhaps, there is much more unstated.  High tech and consumer electronics firms long ago shifted the core of consumer electronics supply chains to Asia. Foxconn alone represents a production workforce of over a million people, not to mention many more of that number spread across Apple’s Asian based suppliers. Add many other consumer electronics companies and the arguments of existing capabilities in people, process, component product innovation and supply chain across Asia remain compelling.

We recall that commentary in light of yet another major ramp-up of Asia based consumer electronics supply chain providers.  Yet, the open question remains, where or what is the status of Apple’s planned $100 million investment in the U.S. let alone a more far reaching commitment toward renewing a U.S. based consumer electronics component supply chain ?

A posting in All Things Digital in May of 2013 indicated that according to testimony from CEO Tim Cook before a Congressional Subcommittee the Mac facility would be located in Austin Texas and rely on components made in Florida and Illinois and equipment produced in Kentucky and Michigan. Soon after, Apple contract manufacturing partner Foxconn announced that it was looking to source more manufacturing in the U.S.

In June of this year, PC World made note that Cook tweeted a photo of his visit to the Austin Texas facility where Macs are being produced. The snafu was the iMac in the background was running Microsoft Windows.

The problem however is that a Google search to find updated information related to Apple’s investment in U.S. supply chain capability yields scant information.  We certainly urge our readers with knowledge of Apple’s U.S. production and supply chain investment efforts to chime in, if they are allowed.

Compare that with the efforts being generated by Wal-Mart in its Made in the U.S.A. initiative, committing upwards of $250 over the next ten years on U.S. produced goods. During the Winter Olympics, Wal-Mart produced a super slick video, I am A Factory, that garnered over a million You Tube views. That has been followed by summit meetings held with would-be suppliers in multiple product categories to encourage U.S. investment and provide assistance in sourcing or skills development training. Wal-Mart is even willing to make multiple year buying commitments to prospective manufacturers to help them invest in U.S. based supply chain resources. Last week, the Wall Street Journal profiled Element Electronics which is currently assembling televisions in a production facility in South Carolina under the Wal-Mart program. Noted is that the Element production line is an exact duplicate of one that exists in China, installed by Chinese engineers. While Element management admits that there are challenges in the sourcing of a U.S. component supply chain, and in required worker skills, it is making efforts to correct that situation over time under the support of Wal-Mart’s longer term buying commitment.

The point is this.  There is no question that Apple has the financial resources and the public relations savvy to make a U.S. production and supply chain sourcing effort far more meaningful, impactful and visible.  Yet one has to dig real deep to find information let alone acquire any sense of active commitment. Instead, business headlines note massive scale-up and flexibility of Asia based resources as being far more important to Apple’s business goals. Yet Apple has no problem in demanding a premium price for its products from U.S. consumers. We will avoid diving into the debate regarding Apple’s offshore cash strategy.

Supply Chain Matters therefore challenges the top rated supply chain to join Wal-Mart and others in a far more active and impactful multi-year commitment to U.S. manufacturing which includes higher volume products and education of required worker skills.

Bob Ferrari

 


Once Again Another Apple New Product Ramp-up of the iPhone Supply Chain

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On the eve of Apple’s report of quarterly earnings, its supply chain is leaking all sorts of information regarding the upcoming new production ramp-up of Apple’s new iPhone models in preparation for all important the holiday buying surge period that comes later this year.

Our Supply Chain Matters information alerts regarding Apple have been active for the past five weeks but the trigger point arrived today when the Wall Street Journal featured a front-page article regarding ongoing production plans.

According to the WSJ, Apple’s supply chain planners have placed orders for between 70 million and 80 million iPhones in both 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch screen configurations to be completed by the end of this calendar year. That compares to production orders of between 50-60 million phones for the same period last year as Apple ramped-up for the introduction of the iPhone5 model series. That is an obvious indication that Apple is making big-bets on the expected popularity of the new iPhone models. Apple also does not want to encounter a situation of being short on inventory for the most popular iPhone 5s model, as was the case during last year’s holiday season.

The WSJ report generally correlates with reports from Taiwan media several weeks ago. Where the reports differ is when volume production is scheduled to start.  Media outlets in Taiwan reported that the 4.7 inch model would begin volume production this month, while the 5.5 inch would begin production in mid-August.  Today’s WSJ report indicates the larger screen version production would begin in September. Previous Taiwan and Chinese reports indicated that contract manufacturer Foxconn was in the process of hiring an additional 100,000 workers to accommodate the cyclical production increase while secondary contract manufacturer Pegatron was in the process of hiring an incremental 10,000 workers. All of this data provides a sense of the sheer scale and flexibility that Apple requires from its supply chain partners.

What is remarkable is that a reading of today’s report gives a true sense of the complexity and variability challenges that Apple’s supply chain planners must manage.  The new larger screen is again, as in prior years, presenting production ramp-up and yield challenges due to more advanced in-call technology and a rumored sapphire based screen. The WSJ report indicates that orders for upwards of 120 million displays have been placed to compensate for yield challenges. If that number is accurate, it would imply that planners are factoring a 60 percent yield factor. The report further validates that Apple planners will make production adjustments based on early demand history, which was again demonstrated last year when production volumes for the iPhone 5c were scaled-back based on initial demand from consumers. Last month, China Times reported that global semiconductor chip producer TSMC was expected to produce 120 million touch ID fingerprint sensors for Apple, which is three times the volume produced last year, and a further indication of production yield factors and ramp-up scale.

Then there is the celebration of the Lunar New Year, which next year, arrives in February, when most production grinds to a halt as workers take time to return to their families. Apple planners must insure that adequate inventories remain to compensate for a lull in production, or that contract manufacturers make assurances that some production will continue during the period of the Lunar New Year celebration. Multi-tiered inventory visibility is an obvious necessity.

As was the case last year, Apple’s upcoming new product launches will place its supply chain with even more challenges. The competitive stakes for Apple are far higher this year as market dynamics and overall competition in emerging markets intensifies. Rival Samsung has already felt the effects of intensified competition from lower-price producers Lenovo and Xiaomi in China and Micromax and Karbonn in India. 

Pricing strategy will be critical and some reports indicate that Apple is seeking higher list prices from carriers for its upcoming new models.  The government of China recently raised media-wide concerns regarding the overall security of Apple smartphones in the midst of ongoing global spying scandals, which could place additional pressures on China Mobile to feature other brands. Android powered phones continue to gain more overall market share while Microsoft and other tech players are providing more incentives for lower-cost providers to adopt Windows based phones.

These are all variables that will drive Apple’s supply chain planning in the coming weeks, one that will again have to demonstrate responsiveness to increased market dynamics, synchronization of NPI and ramp-up plans and resiliency to unplanned disruptions or material shortages.

Then again, Apple continues to be rated by Gartner as the number one supply chain.

Bob Ferrari


Boeing Shares Current Reliability Performance of 787 Dreamliners

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In our previous published commentary, we reflected on the recently held Farnborough Air Show and the new order activity generated for aerospace industry supply chains by this trade show.  Boeing 787-9

One other report from this trade show caught our attention. Boeing indicated that the reliability to-date of the more than 160 787 Dreamliners that are operating among global carriers is averaging about 98 percent. The OEM’s chief 787 test pilot flatly indicated: “that number is not where we would like it to be, we were expecting it to increase.” The industry sets reliability benchmarks for aircraft, particularly newly introduce models that must meet higher customer expectations. According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, Boeing pegs reliability of new aircraft to that of the previous generation 777 fleet at comparable times of product rollout and fleet operating time. The “triple seven” has been widely recognized as one of the most reliable.

Thus far, 787’s have logged more than 490,000 hours of service, but a series of various ongoing snafu’s or malfunctions have caused some setbacks with both production volumes of new aircraft as well as operation of existing aircraft. However, Boeing officials report that the situation is improving. With its latest new “dash nine” variant of the 787, Boeing has further taken on more design management to insure overall reliability of system components. 

The report itself provides yet another reminder of the very high overall reliability standards that today’s more advanced and technology laden aircraft must meet.  It is also a reinforcement to the overall criticality of integration of product design with physical and software performance. Not many industries with such a complex hardware, software and bill-of-materials complexity can meet the standards of 98 percent reliability let alone even higher levels.

Bob Ferrari


Another Aerospace Trade Show and More Orders: Is This a Cause for Additional Concern?

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As we have noted in prior Supply Chain Matters commentaries related to aerospace industry supply chains, air shows have customarily become the preferred trade show venue for the announcement of customer orders.  Last week, the biennial Farnborough Air Show wrapped-up with its flurry of customer order activity not only for aircraft OEM’s but for engine providers as well.  Farnborough Air Show 2014

Various business media reports indicate that Airbus landed the bulk of order activity booking a reported $75 billion of orders at list prices, involving 496 aircraft.  Boeing snagged a little over $40 billion worth of orders involving over 200 aircraft orders. In its reporting, the Wall Street Journal crowned Airbus as beating rival Boeing for air show bragging rights but the more important headline is the growing backlog of orders that industry supply chains must respond to. Neither of the dominant OEM’s came to this air show featuring brand-new aircraft, instead they showcased newer versions of previous new model aircraft including Airbus’s A330 and Boeing’s Dreamliner787 series.

Aircraft engine providers were further big winners at last week’s event. The consortium of General Electric and CFM International booked over $36 billion in new aircraft orders that involved over 1100 engines along with contracts for maintenance, overhaul and repair. Rolls Royce had its share of new order announcements including being the exclusive engine power plant for the newly announced Airbus A330neo, along with new engine orders related to various other Airbus and Boeing wide-body aircraft.

Another important development related to Farnborough related to the aircraft models that were unable to make a presence because of program difficulties. Bombardier elected not to feature its C-Series after test flights were suspended following a major engine incident.  That incident occurred at the end of May when a newly designed geared fan engine produced by Pratt & Whitney incurred an uncontained engine failure during a ground test.

The highlight of the military aircraft aspects of the air show was supposed to be the F-35Joint Fighter being developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force. That aircraft was restricted from flying to the United Kingdom after it suffered an engine failure in late June.  The aircraft was also powered by a Pratt engine.

The other interesting theme within commercial aviation from last week’s air show was increased nervousness about current backlogs as well as more evidence towards the emergence of a preferred supplier strategy.

There are fears for an industry downturn or cancellations as global airlines adjust to a changing global and industry economics.  Current multi-year backlogs for new aircraft delivery are not meeting the business challenges for airlines to have more fuel efficient aircraft operating on a more-timely basis, especially when competing with lower-cost budget airlines.  These lower-cost rivals are now taking delivery of the newer aircraft and extending their route coverage, flying longer distances and charging lower fares than existing long distance carriers. Intense competition has raised concerns for overcapacity, especially if marginal airlines start to succumb to faster growing operators. Carriers operating across Asia are responding to pressures to sustain 30 to 40 percent growth rates while having to deploy new aircraft on newer routes. Terminals, runways and air traffic control systems are reportedly not keeping pace with current demands for airline expansion across Asia. Euphoria is making way to the realities of hyper-growth.

Airlines and leasing operators also want to have negotiating flexibility in the all-important selection of engine providers.  Increasingly, as OEM’s continue to tune product designs among airframe and engine, such options are beginning to whittle. They are no longer inclined to spend development dollars across multiple engine power plant options.

As we continually point-out, aerospace industry supply chains are dealing with an extraordinary unique set of challenges. There are the blessings of multiple years of order backlogs with the challenges among OEM’s for ramped-up production and delivery of new aircraft under a shared risk and revenue arrangement. Rather, dynamic and responsive capacity management, end-to-end value chain intelligence, enhanced supplier collaboration and goal-sharing will all come into play as aerospace supply chains continue to adjust to extraordinary and constantly changing industry dynamics.

While other industry supply chains will envy such circumstances, the ongoing situation in aerospace continues to provide a rather interesting set of circumstances that will no doubt, provide business case content for many years to come.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog. All rights reserved.


Supply Chain Matters News Capsule for July 17; UPS, Foxconn, Mondelez, Typhoon Rammasun

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It’s the end of the calendar work and this commentary is our running news capsule of developments related to previous Supply Chain Matters posted commentaries or news.

In this capsule commentary, we include the following topics:

  • UPS Memphis Facility Expansion
  • Foxconn Plans for New Plant in China’s Guizhou Province
  • Mondelez Continued Re-Structuring,
  • A New SCRM Standard,
  • Typhoon Impacts the Philippines

 

UPS Kicks Off Expansion of Memphis Facility

Global transportation and parcel giant UPS indicated this week that the services provider has kicked off construction related to the expansion of its Memphis Tennessee package distribution facility. According to the announcement, the expansion will add an additional 140,000 square-feet of building space with an estimated cost of $70 million. The UPS Memphis facility controls processing of air and ground gateway hub operations processing and reports further indicate that UPS is leasing upwards of 27 acres from the Memphis Airport Authority to support an 80 percent expansion in package processing. Early improvements are expected to be operational by November, to accommodate expected holiday peak shipment volumes.

Readers will recall that on the day before last year’s Christmas holiday, UPS was thrown under the bus for its admission that its network was overwhelmed and unable to deliver all of parcels in time for the holiday.  While the Worldport facility was the prime focus at the time, the announced expansion in Memphis is an obvious response to have more capacity in place for the upcoming peak holiday shipping period.

 

Foxconn to Build New Environmentally Friendly Production Facility in Interior China

Global contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology has disclosed plans to build a new environmentally friendly production complex in one of China’s most rural and pristine provinces. According to a published Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, a 500 acre park will be built in the province of Guizhou, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Guiyang.

Plans call for an environmentally focused facility to produce smartphones, large-screen televisions and other products that will employ upwards of 12,000 workers. Production processes within this new plant will include new methods for mold based painting, carbon nanotube film for touchscreens and other innovations. The facility will also include a 2160 square-meter state-of-the-art data center that will be cooled by prevailing natural winds. Bloomberg makes no mention of advanced robotics for assembly but we suspect that may also be included.

This facility will also be constructed from 100 percent recycled steel and include patent protected heat-reflective glass that was designed by Foxconn. The plant is scheduled to be operational by March of 2015.

 

Mondelez to Separate European Cheese and Grocery Unit

In late January, we noted in a commentary that an activist investor was granted a board seat a global snacks and foods provider Mondelez.  The Wall Street Journal reported at that time that Mondelez management agreed to this move to quell public criticism of the company as well as avoid a public proxy fight. Having a board seat, activist investor Nelson Peltz could escalate his calls for added profit margins.

Last Friday, the company announced that it would separate its European cheese and grocery products groups into separate business units as it prepares to jettison its coffee business into a new company. Rumors among the Wall Street community reflected on eventual sale of the European grocery and cheese businesses as well. According to reports, both European groups represented 3.9 percent of total sales.

 

ASIS Releases New Supply Chain Risk Management Standard

ASIS International, a society of global security professionals released a new supply chain risk management standard to assist organizations to address operational risks within their supply chains. This standard was developed by a global cross-disciplinary team in partnership with the Supply Chain Security Council. An Executive Summary of this new standard can be viewed at this web link.

 

Typhoon Strikes the Philippines

Typhoon Rammasun barreled across the Philippines this week, killing at least 38 people and leaving the capital city of Manila without power most of Thursday.  The eye of the storm passed just south of Manila after impacting the island of Luzon.  The storm was reported to have destroyed about 7,000 houses and damaged 19,000, with more than 530,000 being evacuated. Offices and commerce were expected to reopen by late week.

Meanwhile, southern China and Northern Vietnam are bracing for the arrival of the Typhoon on Friday, with wind gusts expected to surpass 140 kilometres per hour.


A Lesson in Emerging Market Dynamics Within Consumer Electronics Supply Chains

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A new dynamic is occurring within the global E-tablet market, one that is being orchestrated by some key suppliers. This dynamic provides a reminder to the crucial importance of supplier intelligence strategies.

The Wall Street Journal recently observed that global microprocessor chip maker Intel, in response to being shut out as a key supplier for the Apple iPad and iPhone as well as Samsung models, is wooing smaller electronic tablet providers within China. The strategic objective is sub $250 tablet markets that are attractive to consumers within emerging market economies.

Intel has been calling on the likes of Shenzhen Hampoo Science & Technology Co., Shenzhen Ramos Digital Technology and select other China based mid-sized consumer electronics providers. These companies were previously learning towards existing ARM-based chip producers as well as Google’s Android operating system. According to the WSJ: “Among other tactics, Intel has taken a cue from Chinese chip makers and last year began offering “reference designs”- essentially ready-made tablet designs that allow manufacturers to create a product in as little as one month.” Intel has further sped-up its chip product development cycles in China.

This week provides another related development.  Microsoft announced that it would expand its subsidies to vendors for Windows-based tablets and sub 9 inch models priced below $250, in essence receiving free Windows licenses. Microsoft is betting that tablets featuring full Windows functionality, in combination with lower-cost processors, have a good chance of capturing added market-share from Android devices. A posting by Digitimes reports that with this new strategy, China white-box, private brand manufacturers have quickly raised their proportion of Windows based tablets.

Two major, influential suppliers are thus in the process of altering existing market dynamics and the stakes are high.  The sub-$250 electronic tablet market could lead to larger production volumes and subsequently, leverage existing electronic content distribution strategies.

As Supply Chain Matters has noted in previous commentaries, within today’s highly dynamic high tech and consumer electronics supply chains, key component suppliers can serve as either a strategic partner or a potential market disruptor by shifting product and market development strategies. The takeaway is that supply chain and procurement sourcing leaders need to fully understand the markets they serve and the key strategic suppliers within that market.  Supplier intelligence has never been as crucial as it is today. A key sourcing decision made for certain business outcome purposes can have ramifications when deep pocket suppliers elect to counter that strategy.

Bob Ferrari


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