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Apple Takes Steps in Requiring Safer Supply Chain Substances

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The bulk of Apple’s component supplier and contract manufacturing partners reside in China and Asia where many high tech electronics products are produced.  Unfortunately, this is an area that continues to deal with high levels of industrial pollution, worker safety and industrial accidents.

Apple is now taking meaningful steps to initiate substance regulations across its supplier network. 

According to a recent posting appearing on Apple Insider, the company is banning the use of cleaning agents’ benzene and n-hexane within supplier factories. This moves is part of Apple published Regulated Substances Specification which has recently been made available for open viewing. The purpose of this specification reads in-part:

We require our suppliers to adhere to this Regulated Substances Specification, which describes Apple’s global restrictions on the use of certain chemical substances or materials in our products, accessories, manufacturing processes, and packaging used for shipping products to Apple’s customers.”

Apple’s vice-president of Environmental Initiatives has additionally published a letter regarding the company’s stance on safe working environments. Apple further intends to establish a new advisory board made up of chemical and pollution prevention experts who are tasked with finding additional ways to minimize or eliminate the use of toxins across Apple’s supplier network.

These moves come after activist groups submitted petitions calling for the company to place a ban on dangerous substances.

The fact that one of the top rated global supply chains has taken this proactive stance regarding supply chain safety and environmental responsibility is quite meaningful.  Hopefully it will be an impetus for more high tech and consumer electronics brand owners to join in citing higher standards for safe chemical use.


The Tesla Gigafactory Site Selection Frenzy is Reaching Peak

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This is a follow-up commentary related to Tesla Motors, specifically this electric powered automotive manufacturer’s efforts in supply in deploying a broader supply chain vertical integration strategy. In our Supply Chain Matters commentary in February, we noted Tesla’s announcement to build its own $5 billion electric battery supply facility which is termed the “gigafactory”, capable of supplying up to 500,000 electric vehicles per year. That level of supply commitment exceeds Tesla’s current planned output and implies providing a U.S. based manufacturing presence for electric batteries that would be available to other automotive and vehicle producers.  Tesla currently supplies batteries for the ToyotaRAV4 EV and the Mercedes B-Class electric.     Telsa Motors Model S

We noted that the strategy savvy, given that when one reflects on the entire value-chain and cost-of-goods sold (COGS) for an electric Tesla Motors Model S powered automobile, the batteries are indeed the highest portion of material cost. Tesla expects that the new factory would reduce its current battery costs by 30 percent in its first year,

In late July, during its second-quarter earnings report, Tesla executives made a side announcement indicating that the company had reached a final agreement with Panasonic Corp. as the supplier partner in the construction and operation of the planned gigafactory. Five western U.S. states continue to be cited as potential sites for either one or two linked supply facilities, although site work has actually begun in an area near Reno Nevada.  Other potential U.S. states in the running are Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The western portion of the U.S. is an obvious choice because of its proximity to the supply of lithium carbonate, a key raw material for lithium-ion batteries.

Journalist Michelle Quinn pens in a report posted by the San Jose Mercury News that the potential for landing this new battery factory with upwards of 6500 manufacturing continues to fuel a massive wooing and lobbying effort among each of the potential states. State legislatures are rushing through incentive packages to sweeten prospects in their individual states and Governors and city mayors have resorted to novel efforts in demonstrating enthusiasm and keen interest. One example, Texas Governor Rick Perry drove a Tesla Model S to California and taunted California officials about the overwhelming advantages of locating manufacturing in the Lone Star State. Quinn describes these lobbying efforts as a ‘beauty pageant” and: “if a song and dance could help (California), let’s do it.”

Readers should recall that Boeing launched a nationwide RFP bidding effort among potential U.S. states for selection of component and final assembly facilities for its new announced 777x commercial aircraft program. In our January posting, Collaboration According to Boeing, we noted that Boeing’s ultimate objective was to secure the most lucrative economic incentives related to production sourcing.  Boeing was in-essence conducting a reverse auction, seeking the lowest economic bidder. In the end, a package of incentives described as the largest of its kind in U.S. history assured that new generation 777 production would remain in the OEM’s current Seattle area.

One of the learnings from the deep economic recession of 2008-2009 is that state, local and provincial governments will do all that is required to secure needed jobs and an economic future in times of uncertain economic growth.  If that requires massive incentives in tax breaks, site location subsidies, workforce training and infrastructure developments, so be it.  Current efforts among local and state governments to top one another only adds to the reality that manufacturers can hold out for the sweetest deal available with lucrative benefits. Appearances, stunts and lobbying add more leveraging power for the manufacturer.

In the specific case of Tesla, a company well known for its innovative and bold thinking. When the company announced that it would manufacture autos in California, many auto industry observers scoffed at that decision. California is not known as a low-cost manufacturing region.

The ultimate selection of its U.S. based battery gigafactory will accomplish four objectives:

  • Bold supply chain vertical integration
  • Proximity to key commodity supply and transport networks
  • A well trained and technically savvy workforce
  • Subsidies that may well defray the overall cost burden.  

At this point, Tesla has more than likely honed its selection list based on the above objectives. The thinking is bold and timing is exquisite. It’s time to move beyond the politics and to the objective at-hand.

Bob Ferrari

 


Report Indicates Apple iPad New Product Ramp-up Adding to NPI Pressures

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Three weeks ago, Supply Chain Matters commented on the effort underway among Apple’s ecosystem of suppliers and manufacturing partners to prepare for the upcoming product launch and distribution of the new model iPhone. Our commentary made note of reports indicating a number of moving milestones and potential challenges related to new product production ramp-up and product yield. Besides the next generation of the iPhone, there were additional published reports indicating that Taiwan’s Quanta Computer would begin mass production of Apple’s new smartwatch in July, with the planned product launch coming as early as October.

Today, Bloomberg, citing sources with knowledge, is reporting that Apple suppliers have also begun initial manufacturing of the planned new models of the iPad. According to the report, volume production of the next generation full-sized 9.7 inch version of the new model iPadAir is underway, with a newer version of the 7.9 inch iPadmini now entering production with general availability expected by the end of the year. The product introduction announcement is reported to be either at the end of Q3 or early Q4, but many Apple watchers are betting on the month of October, since other next generation products are scheduled for market introduction in that month. In any case, the NPI and volume production scenarios for iPad and iPhone are both pressing towards critical windows for required availability.

The latest quarterly financial results for Apple reflected a marked decline in iPad sales volumes, declining by over 13 million units, thus the upcoming new product introduction cycle is crucial.  Timing is critical since there must be inventory available when consumers elect to make their end-of-year holiday purchases.

Like all things related to Apple’s product innovation cycles, design engineers introduce last-minute component features that would challenge any high volume focused supply chain. In our previous iPhone6 commentary, we highlighted reports of yield challenges with the larger LCD screen, the rumored inclusion of sapphire based screens and continued challenges for higher-volume production of fingerprint scanners. The next generation iPad Air is strongly rumored to include more innovative anti-reflective coating as well as a fingerprint sensor.

A separate report from the Associated Press further indicates that Apple’s sapphire glass provider, GT Advanced Technologies, indicated this week that its production facility is close to starting production, but does not expect to reach full operational production until early 2015. That is not an encouraging report for Apple’s supply chain planners and will likely lead to further tough decisions in the weeks to come.

Apple supply chain teams indeed important challenges is the coming 12 weeks with many simultaneous moving milestones impacting multiple product management plans.  It is a consummate example of changing information in constant motion. Integration of NPI and supply chain information coupled with multi-tier response planning will invariably be put to the test.

Bob Ferrari


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


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.


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