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Good and Not So Good News: When All Eyes are Focused on Your Supply Chain


The following Supply Chain Matters commentary has a theme, let’s call it a good news- not so good news theme. Be warned that its length is somewhat longer because it represents a Research and Consulting Advisory that I felt should be shared with our blog readers.

When I deliver presentations on supply chain management topics, I often use the above analogy regarding our community.  You see, for many years, the efforts of supply chain management teams and professionals were often perceived as being taken for granted or misunderstood. Teams were frustrated as to why senior managers did not comprehend why supply chains do matter in accomplishing financial, operational and customer business objectives.

Today, the good news is that, more and more, the C-Suite and indeed the board room now have full understanding of the contributions and the value.  The not-so-good news is the same, and it comes with higher expectations for delivering on key business goals, both financial and operational, and in the high-level visibility window now focused on any firm’s supply chain performance. Especially when shortfalls in performance cause the need for broader senior management and shareholder visibility.

So, where are we going with this posting?

Let’s revisit the ongoing developments involving certain commercial aircraft and aerospace industry supply chains. In our ongoing multi-year coverage of industry players, we have continually pointed out the extraordinary circumstances of an industry that is designing and manufacturing new generations of more technology laden, far more fuel efficient new aircraft. This has led to the enviable position of having order backlogs of upwards of $1.5 trillion that extend outwards of ten years. At the same time, an industry with a track record of prior challenges in its ability to more rapidly scale-up overall aircraft production levels is clashing with the industry dynamics of both Airbus and Boeing in their desire to deliver higher margins, profitability and more timely shareholder returns.  Smack in the middle of these dynamics are relationships among suppliers, who need to continue to invest in higher capacity and capability, but of-late have had to respond to key customer requirements for larger cost and productivity savings.


One specific development has been the increasing visibility to the supply chain challenges occurring at aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney, specifically its revolutionary new geared-turbofan (GTF) aircraft engines.  Supply chain glitches and volume production ramp-up challenges have now directly impacted the aircraft delivery production plans of both Airbus and Bombardier, causing both final manufacturers to now incur the financial and airline customer consequences of delayed deliveries and unfinished aircraft waiting for the inevitable broken-link in the supply chain. The most visible broken link has of-late been Pratt. There are others as well but in this new world of ubiquitous visibility, any one supplier can bear the brunt.

In our blog commentary published in mid-September, we highlighted that United Technologies, the parent to Pratt, and specifically the UA CEO, warned the conglomerate’s investment community that Pratt will likely miss its 2016 customer engine delivery goals by 25 percent, amounting to a shortfall of 50 engines for aircraft manufacturers.  CEO Gregory Haynes indicated the obvious in that Pratt’s airline customers were not happy with the news.  Neither were UA stockholders who initiated an initial 2 percent sell-off in UA stock.

At stake is the ongoing production ramp-up of the Airbus A320 neo which first certified with the new Pratt engine.  Certification of the neo version with CFM International engines is in-process, and with the current visible challenges for Pratt, Airbus production operations teams must now deal with the option of whether to shift current backlog order fulfillment more to CFM powered versions to insure attainment of Airbus’s 2016 and perhaps 2017 production objectives. Similarly, financially challenged Bombardier’s new CSeries aircraft has just initiated initial deliveries to airline customers but management was forced to warn that commitments for the overall market must now be scaled back because of the limited supply of finished Pratt GTF engines, the sole certified engine for the CSeriesBombardier just announced its second round of significant headcount reductions to preserve cash and working capital needs.

UA CEO Hayes indicated in September that: “five parts are causing us pain this year”, due to supplier challenges in meeting Pratt’s current volume production and quality needs. There are approximately 800 parts for the high-level bill of material for the new GTF Pratt engine. One critical problem is the heart of this new engine, its newly designed aluminum titanium composite fan blades, noted as a breakthrough in material design and expected performance.

This past week, United Technologies reported on its Q3-2016 financial and operational performance. To follow this story, we reviewed the entire transcript of the senior management briefing to equity analysts and shareholders.

It seemed obvious to this author, that the bulk of the attention of senior management, and the questions of equity analysts, were centered squarely on Pratt and its supply chain.

CEO Hayes opened the briefing with the review of UT’s three key priorities: flawless execution, structural cost reduction, disciplined capital allocation. He quickly touched upon the current success of Pratt and its new GTF aircraft engine, noting that the engine is already meeting or exceeding key performance targets and already delivering 99.9 percent dispatch reliability on Airbus A320 neo in-service aircraft.

Thus, the positives related to product design and engineering.

It was not too long before the Pratt near-term challenges and the details of slower deliveries than planned began to come forth. Regarding Pratt’s delivery challenges, Mr. Hayes emphatically stated: “It’s going to get fixed and its going to be fixed this quarter.” He later stated that UT senior management follows Pratt developments daily, and that four separate initiatives are simultaneously underway:

  • Process improvements
  • Yield improvements
  • Lead-time reductions
  • Additional added capacity

The Pratt operational and supply chain details continued through most of the management briefing, and even more as individual equity analyst’s questions honed-in specifically on more and more of Pratt and its supply chain challenges.

Highlights of disclosure included:

  • In Q3, Pratt delivered 76 GTF engines across all platforms and management anticipates 150 engines to be delivered by the end of this year, meaning similar output level in Q4. The 2017 delivery goal is now set at between 350-400 engines.
  • Pratt’s negative margin trend will increase from $650 million in 2016, to $950 million in 2017 because of absorbed engineering and development costs and break-even volumes not expected until way after 2017.
  • The GTF titanium aluminum fan blade was again identified as being a prime bottleneck. At the beginning of 2016, the total lead time, from start to test completion, for the fan blade averaged 100-105 days, more than 3 months. First pass test yields were described as 30 percent. Today, the same lead time was noted as 55 days with first pass yield rate of 75 percent. The overall production process related to the fan blade was described as incredibly difficult.
  • An additional fan blade production partner is scheduled to come on-line with added capacity by November. Full production of this partner is expected in January.
  • Pratt is additionally starting-up a brand new, more automated factory, next to the current owned blade factory in April of next year.
  • Pratt has a strategy in-place where no single point of failure resides in the supply chain. In-essence, at least two key suppliers for each of key parts within the GTF engine.
  • And finally, UA brought back former Sikorsky Aircraft and GE Aviation senior operations executive Shane Eddy to lead operations at Pratt.

The need for the sharing of all this supply chain operational detail with investors comes back to our original theme of good and not so good news.

Operations and supply chain executives reviewing this information may identify very discernable symptoms of the interrelationships of product design and management, supply chain sourcing and volume ramp-up planning. The revolutionary new fan blade was a known critical component, yet now with visibility at the highest levels of management, additional financial and operational resources needing to address disappointing ramp-up needs are now being allocated. Bringing in a new senior operational manager with prior known accomplishments is another potential sign. Another theme we believe is the recurring one of having to balance billions of dollars of investment in stock buy-back with perhaps the need to invest capital earlier in manufacturing automation and worker productivity.

In essence when the CEO of your holding company, under the constant gun for higher shareholder returns, is now disclosing the detailed operational get-well strategies of your supply chain, than you know that the looking glass of visibility is very high, and the expectations for enhanced supply chain performance is similarly very high. That is indeed the good and not so good news contrast.

The good news of higher visibility is the priority for marshalling all required corporate resources to address existing supply chain challenges and needs.  The not so good news is the peril that such visibility can sometimes bring.

This state is one that senior supply chain leaders will have the most difficulty managing.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

Bombardier Announces Additional Headcount Reductions


Last week, transportation equipment provider Bombardier announced plans to shed an additional 7,500 jobs, or just over 10 percent of its global workforce, as it focuses on turnaround efforts amid a soft business-jet market and hiccups with its CSeries commercial aircraft program.  This announcement came in the wake of a prior February announcement to reduce 7000 jobs.

The Canadian-based commercial aircraft and train manufacturer indicated that the headcount reductions will be global in-nature, affecting administrative and non production positions across the company, and are expected to save it about $300 million by the end of 2018.  Swiss Maiden CS100

According to business media reports, about two-thirds of the latest headcount reductions will stem from Bombardier Transportation, the company’s rail manufacturing business. About 2000 of these job cuts are expected to impact employees within Canada.

The cuts are further expected to include a realignment of design, engineering and manufacturing structures and the creation of new “Centers of Excellence” overseeing both rail and commercial aircraft manufacturing.

As Supply Chain Matters and business media continually points out, Bombardier has made a big strategic bet with the development and production in the CSeries single aisle commercial aircraft being a global airline alternative to aircraft producers Airbus and Boeing. This new aircraft finally entered commercial service with Swiss International after a multi-year program delay and flew its first paying passengers in July.

While the new aircraft is garnering positive reviews from airline customers, the financial toll on the broader operations of Bombardier continue and have had a noteworthy financial impact on the company. A year ago, to overcome continued financial funding needs, Bombardier struck an agreement with the government of Quebec to give-up nearly half its stake in the CSeries program in exchange for a $1 billion additional investment. The company further sold an equity stake in its train manufacturing division to a Quebec pension fund for $1.5 billion. That division continues to respond to stiff global competition coming from China’s lower-cost, state-owned rail equipment producers who are in the process of merging.

The latest and perhaps most untimely setback to CSeries program came late this summer with an announcement by aerospace aircraft producer Pratt and Whitney that it would not be able to meet its 2016 production and delivery commitments to certain aircraft manufacturers that included both Bombardier and Airbus.

We previously highlighted that Airbus’s first-half shipping performance related to its new A320 neo aircraft were noticeably impacted by delayed delivery of Pratt’s new geared turbo fan engine. Airbus had delivered just 5 A320neos in Q1 and 3 in Q2 while nearly a dozen of completed aircraft was reported at the time to be lined-up on factory adjacent runways and parking areas awaiting Pratt to deliver completed engines. The July delay was associated with fixing the engine’s cooling design through a combination of software and component modifications.

In early September, Bombardier publicly disclosed a delivery schedule adjustment due to the shortfall in expected completed engines from Pratt. While re-adjusting to a lower revenue expectation, the manufacturer reaffirmed its prior earnings commitment, most likely setting the stage for the current headcount reductions.

Moving forward, the new CSeries is more than ever highly dependent on the consistent and more-timely performance of its sole aircraft engine supplier, Pratt. Industry watchers and academics may well look back and question whether specification and reliance on a single aircraft engine design was a wise one. Then again, Bombardier, from the get-go, may not have had the financial deep pockets to be able to certify and source more than one engine supplier.


Rockwell Collins Announced Acquisition of B/E Aerospace is About Supplier Leverage


This weekend featured some significant news directly focused towards aerospace and commercial aircraft supply chain dynamics. The first is the announced acquisition by Rockwell Collins to acquire B/E Aerospace, and the other was the announcement of another round of significant headcount reductions at Bombardier, which will be highlighted in a subsequent posting.


Rockwell Collins and B/E Aerospace, yesterday announced that they have entered a definitive agreement under which Rockwell Collins will acquire B/E Aerospace for approximately $6.4 billion in cash and stock, plus the assumption of $1.9 billion in net debt.

The announcement notes that this transaction combines Rockwell Collins’ capabilities in flight deck avionics, cabin electronics, mission communications, simulation and training, and information management systems with B/E Aerospace’s range of cabin interior products, which include seating, food and beverage preparation and storage equipment, lighting and oxygen systems, modular galley and lavatory systems for commercial airliners and business jets.   rockwell_collins_display

This cash and stock deal will obviously require approval from global regulators and represents a reported 22 percent premium to the closing price of B/E stock on Friday. From the lens of Supply Chain Matters, the deal further represents an evolving trend of key suppliers attempting to gain greater leverage in strategic product design and supply arrangements among global aircraft manufacturers.

In our ongoing multi-year coverage of commercial aircraft supply chain related developments, we have continually pointed out the extraordinary circumstances of an industry that has designed and manufactured a new generation of more technology laden, far more fuel efficient new aircraft. This has led to the enviable position of having order backlogs of upwards of $1.5 trillion that extend outwards of ten years. At the same time, an industry with a track record of prior challenges in its ability to more rapidly scale-up overall aircraft production levels are clashing with the industry dynamics of both Airbus and Boeing in their desire to deliver higher margins, profitability and more timely shareholder returns.  Smack in the middle of these dynamics are relationships among suppliers, who need to continue to invest in higher capacity and capability, but whom of-late have had to respond to key customer requirements for larger cost and productivity savings. Further at-stake are the opportunities for benefiting from multiple years of service parts and service focused revenues and margins related to ongoing aircraft operating maintenance needs along with desires to upgrade older aircraft with more Internet connected entertainment and business services.

Yesterday’s announcement indicates that this proposed acquisition significantly increases Rockwell Collins’ scale and diversifies its product portfolio, customer mix and geographic presence. Rockwell Collins CEO Kelly Ortberg indicated to The Wall Street Journal that the combination offered substantial cost synergies and the ability to cross-sell electronics and plane fittings, and positions the combined companies to lead in the development of “smart” aircraft. The latter can be interpreted to mean more connected aircraft in relation to passenger entertainment along with more predictive maintenance and services.

The proposed acquisition further provides more negotiating power and leverage. Readers may recall that in a Supply Chain Matters prior commentary, we highlighted a development in late July when Rockwell Collins issued a public statement directed at Boeing, indicating that the commercial aircraft producer owed Rockwell $30-$40 million in overdue supplier payments representing a breach of contractual supply agreements between the two companies. Rockwell supplies cockpit avionics displays for the Boeing 787 and newly developed 737 MAX aircraft. The CEO of Rockwell openly indicated in his firm’s report of financial performance that Boeing had contributed to Rockwell’s reported financial shortfalls. We interpreted this development as a trend of more aggressiveness among key suppliers.

Similarly, our ongoing commentaries related to the industry have noted that current production shortfalls for new aircraft have come down to more timely availability of interior cabin components such as seats and lavatory outfitting components. This has become a more visible challenge to produce larger, dual aisle aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

The announcement points to the additional benefits of the cost synergies among the two companies, indicating the generation of run-rate cost synergies of approximately $160 million ($125 million after tax) over a six-year period.  More than likely, that will reflect elements of both companies’ manufacturing and supply chain related activities.

This latest aerospace and commercial aircraft industry acquisition announcement may, more than likely, motivate additional announcements. It further reinforces our prior advisory for product management, procurement and supply chain teams to best be prepared for the new consequences of added supplier influence and push back via enhanced strategic positioning. The days of one-sided or tops-down supplier management seem to be numbered, especially in industry settings where revenue and growth potential are significant.

A final note relates to smarter machines and service management revenue potential. While original equipment manufacturers are certainly focused on the new business models brought about by more connected machines.   Key component suppliers also understand such potential, and desire their portion of the incremental revenue and profitability benefits, and there lies the next frontier of collaboration and control.


Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


The Effects of Hurricane Matthew Are Yet to Unfold for Multi-Industry Supply Chains


I am penning this Supply Chain Matters blog commentary on Friday morning as Hurricane Matthew continues to make its way up the Florida coast. This morning, the central eye of this powerful storm is located just off Daytona Beach Florida and continues on its northward path, with a potential threat of a U.S. landfall looming.  The U.S. Hurricane Center continues to warn residents in the path of this storm to be not only watchful of the potential of significant wind damage but coastal and river flood surges along with significant amounts of rainfall.

Hurricane Matthew

From our lens, sales and operations planning, supply chain planning, operational logistics as well as procurement teams need to pay very close attention to the ongoing and potential effects of this natural disaster since the potential of further supply chain disruption is yet to unfold.

I have been in Orlando Florida this week attending an IBM supply chain focused conference and had the opportunity to hear all of the local and national media coverage of this storm, along with the dire warnings to residents and businesses. This storm presents significant threats as the hurricane makes its way further towards the Southeastern U.S. coastal regions.

We were very fortunate to have been able to catch an early afternoon flight out of Florida yesterday, before the major effects impacted Orlando. However, I already witnessed the activities related to preparedness and emergency response as residents began to expire local food and grocery supplies.

Thus far, this powerful Category 3-4 storm has brought devastation and sadly, the loss of life in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas, with more destruction and casualties expected. President Barack Obama has signed federal declarations of emergency for Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, ordering federal aid and allowing federal authorities to coordinate disaster relief efforts in those states. The governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina declared emergencies as well, and more than 7,800 National Guard military personnel have been activated or placed on alert to assist civilian agencies in this ongoing emergency. Likewise, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has been marshaling its emergency response teams to the impacted regions. What continues to concern governmental authorities is that the hurricane’s path will soon impact where the land mass begins to curve out from the Florida coast.

The governors of both South Carolina and Georgia have announced mandatory evacuations involving many of these state’s coastal regions because of the expectations of upwards to 7-10 feet of coastal storm surge with rainfalls of up to 10-12 inches in these regio

Hurrican Matthew

ns. We attach the latest NOAA visual of expected rainfall amounts.

Both of these states are major transportation and logistics hubs for the U.S. Southeast, a region that now includes the presence many automotive, commercial aerospace and other manufacturing focused firms.

The Port of Savannah, as we all know, is a major U.S. East Coast port and logistics hub serving the broader Southeast region, with container ships navigating up the Savannah River to both access and port, and down the river to exit the port. Likewise, the Port of Charleston serves the region as well. As of his morning, the U.S. Coast Guard has closed both of these ports because of the expectation of the gale force winds generated by this hurricane. Respective Port Authorities have likewise suspended all trucking and ocean container logistics activities directly related to these ports. The ports will remain closed to incoming and outgoing vessels until each respective port captain assesses any damage conditions and changes that status, which is expected to be late Sunday or later.

Keep in mind that both of these ports reside in areas that have been susceptible to heavy coastal flooding and excessive rainfall, especially the Savannah River region. Previous significant storms in these areas have resulted in disruption. Air freight facilities, while located in more inland areas could be impacted by storm conditions and heavy rainfall as well. We are well into the most active period for hurricanes  ansd severe storms potentially impacting U.S. East Coast regions.

The timing of this potential disruption is not all that good, coming just prior to the start of the holidays focused retail fulfillment period that begins in about a month’s time. Likewise, automotive and commercial aircraft manufacturers are striving to complete end-of-year or final quarter production commitments.

Thus Supply Chain Matters urges teams to stay abreast of ongoing storm related developments and ascertain if any key suppliers or transportation providers could or have been impacted by the effects of this ongoing hurricane.

We suspect that there will be implications in the days to come and we will keep our readers updated.

Bob Ferrari, Executive Editor


Highlights of Airbus’s Digital Control Room for Supply Chain Management


As noted in our previous commentary, Supply Chain Matters has featured a number of blog commentaries highlighting the various supply chain management accomplishments and challenges related to the commercial aircraft industry. Current unprecedented, multi-year customer order backlogs for new aircraft are having an effect on the entire aerospace industry supply chain ecosystem. The need for commercial aircraft manufacturers to ramp-up their supply chains to support unprecedented levels of production volumes continue to provide unique challenges for this industry.  Airbus Mobile Alabama Manufacturing Facility

This week, this Editor attended the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) annual conference. Besides having the opportunity to moderate a highly informative and industry focused panel discussion co-sponsored by The Washington Post and Ryder (more background and commentary forthcoming in a future posting), we did manage to take in some rather noteworthy educational sessions.

One session that stood out for this author was: Digital Control Room for Supply Chain Management, which described the development and ongoing operation of Airbus’s Supply Chain Control Room. Having featured so many prior commentaries related to Airbus’s ongoing product development, manufacturing and supply chain activities, this presentation, delivered by James Snow, Director of Supplier Management and HO Supplier Development, provided us one of the key tenets that helps Airbus to successfully scale-up its manufacturing and supply chain activities.

Snow described the Airbus Digital Control Room as the heartbeat of the Airbus supply chain, providing a singular information and resolution control hub to manage any issues occurring across the multitude of multi-tier suppliers that support Airbus’s production volumes.

Airbus currently delivers a new aircraft, on average, every 7 hours among 11 owned production facilities and 8 final assembly lines, and the need for a singular control mechanism to coordinate, resolve and communicate status information across a truly global based supply chain is clearly evident. The effort kicked into high gear when Airbus began program preparations for the new A350 aircraft introduction and ramp-up. Last year Airbus completed delivery of 14 A350’s, while 29 are planned for completion this year. Airbus has plans to eventually ramp A350 production to 13 per month.

The control center is described as a combination supplier mapping and a singular control mechanism where multi-functional teams come together to ensure that Airbus’s supplier and other management teams are focused on the same set of issues. Its evolution was a visual paper “war room” concept which many of our production management readers can well relate to. In 2014, Airbus’s top 80 suppliers were monitored for performance and capacity risks. During 2015-2016, the effort was expanded to include the entire supply chain, along with the need to enable and control activities in a digitally supported environment. Today, the supply chain control center serves as the overall focal point of the supply and production demand network, a singular control point for supplier issues managements, and a mechanism available for Airbus senior management to monitor, resource and report on current production performance.

From our lens, one of the more fascinating learning’s derived from Airbus’s efforts in this area was the application of technology.  The overall technology scope was described as not one of a big-bang program deployment of the most sophisticated technology but rather one of continuous, agile rapid development utilizing standardized software applications.

The process calls for every Airbus supplier to have a common identifier supported by the capturing of rapid scan health checks for each supplier. Suppliers tracked are multi-tiered, extending to the level of tier four suppliers, as one cited example, including bathroom counter tops. These rapid scans include overall capacity status, known supplier issues as well as issues that may be caused by Airbus itself as a customer. Eight core supplier skills are monitored on a continuous basis. Any supplier issues are managed with clear action plans that are recorded, monitored and made visible.

More importantly, a process is enforced where the supply chain control center serves as the single source for Airbus management teams to coordinate and report supplier capabilities and maturity, industrial capacity and any supplier risks. Color coding is utilized to rank various supplier and/or Airbus issues and to focus Airbus’s supplier management teams on the most critical or rear-term issues needing resolution. Supplier management teams are described as now spending more of their time directly at supplier sites working on these key issues as opposed to internal management reporting and update meetings.

Articulated major benefits are teams focused on real problems and assisting suppliers with resolving their challenges. Further described is global transparency and trust among internal and external teams with early warning to issues that can impact Airbus. Once more, every level of management has identified levels of responsibility related to certain supplier issues.

An unexpected benefit was described as this tool serving as an archive of prior product design or component engineering issues and as a foundational data store to be able to more reliably predict degradation of key performance indicators. That will likely serve as a future basis for mining supply chain intelligence and more predictive analytics capabilities than can better anticipate supplier challenges down the road.

The more we heard, the more this supply chain control center sounded as a mechanism to support and serve the executive level sales and operations planning process that exists among many manufacturers.

Moving forward, Airbus has plans to enhance supply chain control center functions with mobile-based user enhancements along with making this tool available to other functions such as manufacturing engineering, product development, contracts management and customer support.

Key learning and success factors experienced by Airbus in the use of this tool is that transparency builds trust. Initially, the fear of yet another reporting mechanism hindered initial broad deployment efforts but as the control center began to remove duplicate reporting, acceptance was gained.  The Airbus supplier management team placed the development focus on process and people first, with technology serving as the adapting or best enabling support tool. Strong management endorsement and use of the tool was important as well. Another key learning articulated was that low cost and low tech approaches can work when coupled with continuous, incremental phased development.

Airbus’s Supply Chain Digital Control Room development was sponsored by CSCMP as one of six selected finalists in the organization’s 2016 Supply Chain Innovations of the Year recognition award.  Judging from what we observed, Airbus has implemented unique innovation in the management and control of supply-chain wide visibility and to supplier management ramp-up and issue resolution needs without the need for a elongated big-bang technology-driven deployment.  We thank Airbus for allowing this capability to be shared at this year’s CSCMP event.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

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