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Some Quantification of the Potential Impact of the Tianjin Port Warehouse Explosions

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There has been much reporting within social and business media regarding the potential industry supply chain disruptive effects of the recent massive warehouse explosions that affected the facilities adjacent to the Port of Tianjin.

It is rather important and crucial that industry supply chain and sales and operations team obtain meaningful and insightful information regarding what is happening on the ground as well as the potential short or long-term supply chain impacts, if any.

We at Supply Chain Matters are disappointed to observe that certain technology and service providers are attempting to utilize this tragic incident as a backdrop to product marketing outreach campaigns. Neither should technology providers suddenly become news outlets.

Not good ideas by our lens.

Supply chain technology providers should instead continue to educate on the benefits of the technology they provide and allow industry supply chain teams to receive clear, unfiltered and unbiased insights and information from informed and educated sources.

One of the better Tianjin perspectives Supply Chain Matters has reviewed to-date ia a published white paper: The Aftermath of the Tianjin Explosions: A Global Supply Chain Impact Analysis, authored by supply chain risk management provider Resilinc.

While this 24 page white paper does include some product marketing, along with requiring registration, the bulk of the report provides meaningful and insightful information related to potential immediate, near-term, medium and longer term supply chain impacts.

The paper concludes that the less apparent ripple effects of the warehouse explosions will be felt weeks, months and even years to come.

The paper provides meaningful background information regarding this vital logistics and manufacturing hub, which services industry needs of automotive, commercial aerospace, high-tech, petrochemical and general industrial manufacturing supply chains, among others. It further outlines important mapping of industrial manufacturing and supplier concentrations within close proximity of the explosions, based on a mapping of over 30 sites in a 2-10 mile radius of the blast.  Four large industrial zone districts are adjacent to the port, with the port serving as what is described as the largest free trade zone in northern China, and the second largest Vehicle Processing Center for importing and exporting of automobiles.

On the topic of near-term ripple effects, the Resilinc analysis predicts that extensive delays can be expected for most companies and sites moving products through Chinese ports as government agencies deal with the after-effects of a regulatory environment needing extra attention.

There are predictions that Tianjin port operations will only begin to resume normal operations by approximately mid-September, and that any containers now at the port will be inaccessible for the next two months, even if they are intact. Resilinc indicates that for any suppliers located within 2-15 miles of the explosions, companies may presume 12-16 weeks of delays.

Long-term impacts outlined related to the ripple effects of increased regulatory actions impacting certain industry sectors including the location and storage of goods near large population centers.

Regarding potential long-term impacts, the paper cites Chinese media as indicating the economic cost of Tianjin crisis could be as high as $8 billion.

If your organization is dependent on operations, logistics partners, suppliers or service providers in the Tianjin area, we recommend you review this report which can be accessed at the following Resilinc web link. (Some personal registration information required)

Bob Ferrari

Andrew Liveris Shares Winning Formula for Manufacturers

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Supply Chain Matters has in the past cited Andrew Liveris, Chairmen and CEO of Dow Chemical Company for his understanding and appreciation for the value and contribution of manufacturing and supply chain capability to business outcomes. Besides his current leadership of Dow, Mr. Liveris is an author and U.S. Presidential advisor on manufacturing competitiveness. In a September 2013 commentary, we highlighted his keynote delivered to the MIT Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) Conference which unveiled results of MIT’s study on U.S. manufacturing competiveness.

Thus we were pleased to be alerted to a commentary appearing in the online version of Chief Executive Magazine where  Mr. Liveris shares his winning formula for manufacturing success with other chief executives. His prime messages was for manufacturers to rethink the role in evolving global supply chains and actively address workforce training and development needs for today and the future.

One of the more powerful statements brought out in this interview article deserves highlighting:

Entrepreneurial action and its ability to pivot, according to the world we face, is one of America’s greatest attributes. Manufacturers, for far too long, did not really display agility when global competition disrupted supply chains. We are in a different world. We’re traveling at the speed of flight. We are so connected to the information age without realizing that we’re still at the dawn of it. The smarter companies have figured out their place in the global supply chain and have adjusted their service and product models accordingly.”

Those statements are rather powerful when considering that they come from a CEO.  They reflect the new awareness to supply chain’s contribution.  Within his own industry, Mr. Liveris points out that of the top 20 global chemical manufacturers in 1990, 17 disappeared by 2010. Dow prevailed because of its ability to pivot to dramatic market changes.

A further pearl of wisdom:

Manufacturing today means you’ve got to innovate faster than they commoditize you.

On the all-important skills challenge:

The biggest issue we have is training a new skilled workforce to deploy against that value add, and for me, that is the key topic in manufacturing today. We need technically trained people at the German skill level, in automation, robotics and fine-precision manufacturing. This is the world that we’re in today and we’ve got to adjust to it, and frankly that’s what I spend my time on.”

From our lens, there needs to be many more global manufacturing firm CEO’s possessing the wisdom of Andrew Liveris, one’s that understand that supply chains and manufacturing capabilities do matter.

Bob Ferrari

Evidence of a New Business and Supply Chain Headwind: A Stronger U.S. Dollar

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During this period of earnings announcements for the December-ending quarter, a new and significant headwind, the effects of the U.S. dollar, has appeared for industry supply chains with operations anchored in the United States.  That was significantly delivered to Wall Street by yesterday’s earnings announcement from Procter and Gamble, which currently has nearly two-thirds of its revenues coming from outside of the U.S. Procter and Gamble was not alone, even the likes of Apple encountered the same headwinds.

P&G reported a 31 percent drop in profit as the stronger U.S. dollar diluted the effects of a modest 2 percent organic sales growth. Net income dropped nearly a billion dollars from the year earlier quarter. According to business media reporting, foreign exchange pressures reduced net sales by 5 percentage points. Once more, P&G indicated that these currency effects will continue to be a drag within 2015, potentially cutting net earnings by 12 percent or in excess of another billion dollars.

The implications are obvious including a continued selloff of underperforming brands and businesses.  One published financial commentary report by The Wall Street Journal implied the continuance of “ruthless cost cutting” and a continued slim-down of brands. P&G has further undertaken ongoing efforts to source more production among emerging global regions, and those efforts are likely to accelerate in momentum.

The strong headwinds of currency were not just restricted to consumer product goods. Today’s WSJ reports that it is now evident that:

“The currency effects are hitting a wide swath of corporate America- from consumer products giant Procter and Gamble Co. to technology stalwart Microsoft Corp.  to pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.. Those companies and others have expanded aggressively overseas in search of growth and now are finding that those sales are shrinking in value or not keeping-up with dollar-based costs.”

Further cited was a quote from the CEO of Caterpillar indicating: “The rising dollar will not be good for U.S. manufacturing or the U.S. economy.” The obvious fears for investors and economists alike is that the U.S. dollar’s explosive gains will backfire for U.S. based companies by reducing the price attractiveness of goods offered in foreign countries as well as reducing the value of foreign-based revenues.

The implications to U.S. centered industry supply chains are the needs for yet further shifting of strategies and resources. The existing momentum for U.S. manufacturing may well moderate with these latest developments. Initiatives directed at supporting increased top-line revenue growth now have the added challenges for more flexible, global-wide sourcing of production and distribution needs. Operations, procurement and product management teams that believed that they could get a breather from draconian and distracting cost-cutting directives will once again face the realities of having to cut deeply into domestic focused capabilities and resources.

We often cite the accelerated clock speed of business as a crucial indicator for agility and resiliency for industry supply chain strategy. Here is yet another example where perceptions of a  booming U.S. economy quickly change to the overall business and supply chain implications of the subsequent currency effects.

Bob Ferrari

How the Ebola Outbreak Can Impact Industry and Global Supply Chains

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders continue to work on the front lines to control the outbreak.  The consequences of further Ebola humanitarian reliefinternational spread of the virus coupled with fears of wider-scale contagion have created a call for coordinated global public health actions to stop and reverse the outbreak.

Other concerns should be the short or longer impacts to industry and global supply chains if the current outbreak cannot be adequately controlled. Within close proximity to the current effected region within West Africa is the country of Cote d’Ivoire, which is a major supply source for cocoa.  Countries within the West Africa coastal and interior regions also produce supplies of palm oil, iron ore and other commodity materials.

Beyond local sourcing are the broader implications to global transportation and logistics networks if the current outbreak spreads to other countries and spawns additional travel and cross-border restrictions. In short, industry supply chain and sales and operations planning teams definitely need to monitor the current Ebola outbreak and have some form of scenario and backup plans identified.

This posting serves to alert our Supply Chain Matters readers who subscribe to Accenture Academy training and webinars that this author will overview the current Ebola crisis from an industry and infrastructure supply chain perspective and provide expert perspective on the areas to watch along with considerations for building risk contingency scenarios. Accenture Academy is launching a new series termed Trend Talks, which are more compact and two-way interactive webinars that address and provide  collective discussion on important, rapidly developing trends among industry supply chains.

I am pleased and looking forward to delivering this inaugural Trend Talk webinar addressing this timely and rather concerning global topic.  The session is scheduled for Wednesday, December 10th at 10am Eastern time with participation available only to Accenture Academy members. Readers can utilize this Accenture Academy web link for login and registration.

Bob Ferrari


More Railcar Shortages Loom for U.S. Midwest- Grain Shipments Remain Impacted

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Earlier this year, severe winter conditions across North America coupled with the continued boom of bulk crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken region of North Dakota led to significant railcar bottlenecks and shortages. Business media was quick to note that the rail car shortage problems stemmed from pileups at the BNSF Railway, which was one of other railroads heavily burdened by surging demand for crude oil transport.  The problem was a classic capacity-constrained network, as winter conditions incurred a heavy toll on equipment and schedules. At the time, the railcar shortage was expected in extend further into the year.  BNSF Locomotive unsized

A recent published report from Bloomberg now indicates that grain farmers in the upper Mid-West region of the United States now have a compounding problem.  The article quotes grain industry sources indicating that 10 to 15 percent of last year’s grain crop still remains stored in silos because of the continued lack of availability of specialized bulk rail cars to transport the crop. Some contracts for delivery of grain from as far back as March remain unfulfilled.

This problem is expected to now compound further because the harvest of spring wheat is about to take place.  Grain elevators still contain storage of the prior harvest while an expected large harvest needs to be stored and transported to designated domestic and export markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. spring wheat crop will rise to a four year high in the coming weeks, the bulk of which coming from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. The president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association is quoted as indicating: “With the railroad situation the way it is, it almost looks hopeless as far as catching up.”

From our Supply Chain Matters lens, the key railroad carriers, BNSF and Canadian Pacific seem to be taking the classic rear-view mirror approach to the problem.  A BNSF group vice president reports to Bloomberg that the backlog is expected to be down to less than 2000 past-due railcars by the middle of September.  Bloomberg further reports that as of the end of July, the Canadian Pacific reported in excess of 22,000 requests for grain cars in North Dakota being an average 11.7 weeks late while over 7000 rail cars are over 12 weeks late in Minnesota.

We strongly suspect that farmers, agricultural distributors and consumer goods companies are more interested in the plans that railroads will put in-place to avoid both the past and expected upcoming railcar backlogs.   What are these railroads specifically addressing to get in front of the problem? More than likely the resolution involves broader considerations including crude-oil shipments taking up the bulk of line capacities, along with compounding specialty rail car supply and demand imbalances.

Last winter, rail bottlenecks and delays rippled not only to grain and crude oil, but to other bulk commodities such as sugar and fertilizer, and to the shipment of automobiles and steel. According to this latest Bloomberg report, rail lines anticipate the backlog of grain rail shipments could extend through the October-November period, which overlaps with other agricultural harvests. Some railroads may not recover at all, which will present additional shipping challenges for farmers, grain operators, and indeed other industry supply chains in the coming months. As noted in previous commentaries, ongoing capacity and driver shortages among U.S. trucking companies cannot be relied on to solve this problem, nor is it economical for shippers and producers.

U.S. rail transportation infrastructure remains challenged and there needs to be concerted efforts to address both short and longer-term resolution of consistent reliability in rail shipping networks.

To our readers directly involved in the impacts of these bottlenecks, let us know what you are observing. How can  and should railroads resolve these bottlenecks?

Bob Ferrari

Manufacturers Remain Upbeat Concerning U.S. Factory Investment

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According to the 2014 Semiannual Economic Forecast issued by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), purchasing and supply management executives across the United States remain optimistic concerning the growth of revenues for their firms.

Manufacturers are planning for an average 5.3 percent growth in revenues in 2014, up from a forecasted 4.4 percent at the end of last year. Estimates for spending on new equipment and plants presents an even more optimistic perspective, with an indication of a 10.3 percent increase, compared to a forecasted 8 percent increase in December 2014. However, the outlook for employment was little changed from December’s forecast, projecting a 1.5 percent increase.

From our lens, these forecasts are a stronger indicator that new equipment spending is being directed squarely at automation and increased productivity.  They further reflect the prediction that the current momentum in U.S. manufacturing continues across many industry supply chains.

Last week, Germany’s BASF SE announced what was described as the single largest plant investment in its history. The global chemicals provider indicates that it was considering investing upwards of $1.4 billion to build a gas complex somewhere in the Gulf Coast region of the United States that will convert low-cost natural shale gas into propylene. According to report published by the Wall Street Journal, BASF estimates that it could save upwards of $500 million per year in energy costs if this new chemical plant is located in the U.S..

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