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Two Visible Examples on the Perils for Being an Apple Supplier

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This week brings two visible and poignant reminders of the perils for being an Apple supplier.  There are of course, the positives related to the sheer production volumes that doing business with Apple provides, along with being on the leading-edge of product or component innovation. Along with the positives come the perils for dealing with a highly demanding and influential customer.   iPhone_6_und_6_Plus_324_267

Today’s printed edition of the Wall Street Journal cites suppliers and other sources as indicating (paid subscription) that because of the current surging demand for Apple’s newly announced iPhone 6 models, the Apple supply chain ecosystem has altered previous plans for ramping-up production volumes associated with new models of iPads, and instead are allocating current production resources to iPhones, specifically the iPhone 6 Plus. Apple’s Sales and Operations process has obviously issued marching orders that indicate all hands on deck supporting iPhone shipment needs. That implies a invariable delay for new iPad market availability plans as critical component supplies such as displays allocated their current efforts strictly to supporting current iPhone output demands.

Foxconn, Apple’s prime contract manufacturer has again placed in the role of doing whatever it takes to keep-up with demand, fulfill customer orders and not let lack of finished goods supply be an inhibitor to Apple’s financial results in this all important holiday shipping quarter. The WSJ reports that Foxconn’s Chairman Terry Gou is personally at the Zhengzhou assembly facility “… to monitor production closely.”

In prior Supply Chain Matters commentaries we have pointed out that Foxconn’s real desire is to continue to diversify its business models with less overall dependence on the ebbs and peaks of Apple. That includes building independent branded products. The contract manufacturer has thus been willing to assume a secondary provider role for other of Apple’s products such as the iPad Mini. But, when the stakes are really high, the Apple operational pattern is to turn to its long-standing CMS provider to pull the proverbial rabbits out of the hat in providing almost virtual capacity to move finished goods to consumers and channel partners. 

Thus, one peril for being an Apple supplier is having the capability of high agility in the wake of what others would view as rather difficult obstacles.

The other supplier peril reminder comes from this week’s sudden and unexpected news regarding evolving sapphire glass supplier GT Advanced Technologies and its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sending its stock plummeting. This was a classic current day example of what various supply chain academics have noted as bad supply chain news directly correlated to negative stock performance. In GT’s case, it was literally wiping out upwards of $1 billion in equity value according to one report.

Since the GT news broke earlier this week, the reports we have been monitoring indicate that after further testing of the new sapphire glass material that GT was producing a its new start-up plant near Mesa Arizona, Apple engineers determined that the material was not appropriate for the new iPhone models, and reportedly, withheld the final seed investment payment involving upwards of $130 million. Today, the WSJ reports that GT Technologies will exit the business of manufacturing sapphire. A U.S. bankruptcy judge allowed GT to keep the details of its relationships with Apple secret, no doubt from the influence of Apple as a major creditor. Apple has apparently declined any further statements to business media regarding its relationship with GT.

We sense that this Supply Chain Matters commentary regarding perils will resonate with our readers residing within either Apple’s or other supply chain dominant customer supply chain business models. We know that there not much any of you can state publically. However, we as a broader community, in just one week, have open visibility and can dwell, albeit briefly, to such perils.

We usually strive to point out important takeaways for readers in our individual postings. In this particular case we rather play the observer role and state that perhaps this is today’s mission for supply chain, namely dealing with whatever is required to make the business model successful, including a can-do relationship with the most influential and important of customers. It is what is expected for today’s industry supply chains.

Bob Ferrari

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


Breaking News: Apple Sapphire Glass Supplier Files for Protection Under Chapter 11

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In a sudden and startling announcement, GT Advanced Technologies Inc., a developing supplier for new, more durable sapphire glass applications for Apple’s product lineup, announced today that it had commenced a voluntary filing under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code as a best means to reorganize and protect that company and provide a path to future success. In the announcement, GT indicated that as of September 29, 2014, the company had approximately $85 million in cash, but there is no mention in the release of current outstanding liabilities.

In early August in its announcement for fiscal year second quarter results, the company indicated six month, year-to-date revenues of $80.5 million including $49.7 million attributed to sapphire equipment and materials. Non-GAPP operating expenses were reported as $76.3 million year-to-date and the supplier incurred a $139 million net loss from operations. GT reported ending its second quarter with $333 million of cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash, compared to a $509 million at the end of the company’s first quarter.

A statement from this supplier’s CEO states:

GT has a strong and fundamentally sound underlying business. Today’s filing does not mean we are going out of business; rather, it provides us with the opportunity to continue to execute our business plan on a stronger footing, maintain operations of our diversified business, and improve our balance sheet.

The company indicated that it expects to provide additional details with respect to the Chapter 11 filing as soon as they are available.

Readers may recall that in our previous commentaries related to Apple’s ongoing efforts in product innovation, that Apple provided a long-term strategic seed investment in GT, valued in excess of $500 million, to develop a stronger more durable alternative to the use of gorilla glass for displays in Apple’s forthcoming line-up of products. GT invested in a 1.4 million square foot production facility near Mesa Arizona to produce sapphire at high volumes at comparative cost. There was further speculation that GT was being positioned as the prime supplier of sapphire for the iPhone line-up and the now announced Apple wearable watch scheduled to ship early next year. The recent iPhone 6 new product announcements from Apple did not include sapphire glass as a feature, leading to speculation that GT could not initially ramp to Apple’s high volume production requirements for its newest model.

Suppliers with groundbreaking technology can often fall victim to a far larger and very influential customer with demanding requirements. What happened with GT Technologies will obviously unfold in the coming weeks including its current relationships with Apple.


HP’s Proposed Corporate Split- A Supply Chain Matters First-Take Perspective

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Today, business and general media have been echoing the blockbuster news of the Hewlett Packard announcement indicating that HP desires to split itself into two separate companies. In this posting, we share our initial Supply Chain Matters impressions of this proposed breakup from both a global supply chain and information technology provider perspectives.

According to HP’s announcement, the company’s recently combined personal computer and printer business will split from its corporate hardware and services operations.  The former is proposed to be named HP Inc. and will have Dion Weisler, a current executive in that operation, as its new CEO while the latter will be named Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and have current HP CEO Meg Whitman at the helm. However, most of HP’s current profits have come from the combined PC and printer side.

Both of the split entities would have an equal portion of upwards of $50 billion in revenues, but the various reports we have been reading indicate that the strategy for HP Inc. will be more about generating cash while HP Enterprise will be positioned for growth in enterprise and cloud computing areas. Reports further indicated that HP management has suggested that the current near $20 billion in outstanding debt may be placed on the HP Inc. unit itself, allowing the Enterprise unit more options in further strategic deals. 

The stated goal for this split is to provide both businesses with a sharper, more focused response to changing customer requirements. We are not all convinced, at this point.  Wall Street interests obviously will have a far different view.The proposed split has been targeted to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2015, subject to regulatory and stockholder approval.

Needless to state, there is no shortage of opinions regarding this significant announcement, especially since Ms. Whitman, three years ago, declared to customers and stockholders that HP will remain a single innovative company.  Since that time, HP has already shed upwards of 36,000 people as a result of various subsequent re-structuring programs with the ultimate goal being a range of between 45,000-50,000 job cuts.  With today’s proposed split announcement, the number is now pegged at 55,000 total job cuts.

In 2011, HP proposed a spinoff of its PC division, an announcement that ultimately led to the short CEO leadership reign of Leo Apotheker. Our Supply Chain Matters perspective at the time was that such a decision would unwind the global supply chain high volume leverage benefits that HP had garnered in the strategic procurement of hardware components, as well as raise yet another round of uncertainty for HP’s customers and supply chain partners. That view was later reinforced in a Wall Street Journal report published after our commentary.

The same concern remains with today’s announcement, although the combination of PC’s and printers retains some leverage. To calm such fears, we read one report stating that CEO Whitman has indicated that the two companies will have a “supply chain arrangement” that allows them to jointly negotiate strategic purchases. We are not that confident that such an arrangement has been all that successful among other large firms. Further, if one of the entities is burdened with the current total debt load that may not help in negotiating or consummating long-term, multi-year supplier agreements that often require up-front cash. Today, overall supply chain leadership is decentralized among HP’s business units. With this split, that model will have special significance.

In its reporting last week and this weekend, the Wall Street Journal revealed that for most of the year, HP held merger talks with storage systems provider EMC Corp, a deal that would have created an estimated $130 billion in combined revenues. Although those talks were reported as ended, the WSJ speculates that today’s proposed split could pave the way for a combination of HP Enterprise and EMC down the road. If that indeed is the strategy being played out, than the global supply chain leverage benefits from a combined HP/EMC, or another existing IT infrastructure hardware provider can buffer some of the loss of global supply chain volume leverage.

From an overall supply chain,B2B business network and applications perspective, the proposed split affords the HP Enterprise entity the opportunity to more aggressively innovate products in cloud-based systems, big-data analytics and decision-making as well as support for IT business process and cloud outsourcing.  That may well depend on what ultimately transpires in further announcements in the coming months.  There is the possibility that HP Enterprise could be adsorbed within another enterprise provider’s business strategy.

These past weeks, there has been speculation that HP’s printer business was in final stages of announcing some breakthrough technology directed at 3D printing applications in manufacturing and other uses. If that product comes to market, our speculation is that it will have dependence on HP Enterprise services. How such applications are apportioned under the proposed split is an obvious concern for HP’s current and future customer base.

Finally, in observing other high profile corporate splits, issues of how corporate-wide business shared services, such as procurement, data centers, B2B business network infrastructure and EDI systems, ERP, business and specialized supply chain focused applications, third-party logistics and online customer fulfillment are split out becomes a task of significant proportions. With so many job cuts that have already occurred to-date, and more expected to come, inherent business process knowledge and dedicated internal resources to shepherd the transition workloads are going to be challenging. With speculation of even more strategic changes down the road, the notion of two split companies that can respond faster to changing customer and market needs could be slowed-down by the need for adaptive business systems.

There is obviously more to come regarding the HP business split and we urge readers to stay tuned for further Supply Chain Matters commentaries and updates.

Bob Ferrari

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


Apple About to Clear New iPhone Product Release Hurdle Within China

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Supply Chain Matters has queued-up a series of follow-up postings related to previous supply chain related commentaries we have featured on this blog related to important supply chain and B2B/B2C network fulfillment capabilities.  

The following six updates provide updated developments. 

We begin with Apple and another iteration of the high expectations being placed on its supply chain during the release and subsequent on-sale availability of the two new of iPhone 6 models.

We, along with other business and social media outlets called attention to the problematic last minute postponement of the scheduled release and availability of these new models across China.  There was widespread speculation as to the cause of and potential length of the delay.  Despite this situation, Apple had a rather successful first weekend of shipments. However, arch competitor Samsung countered with a quick maneuver in offering its new Galaxy Note 4 smartphone initially within China before other countries.

Today, various published reports now indicate that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has indeed granted the iPhone 6 models their network access permit.

The latest from Apple is that pre-orders for the new models will begin on October 10 and the phones will be made available by all three state-run mobile carriers. However, these state-run carriers have reduced the subsidies for high-end smartphones such as the iPhone 6, which implies that the higher-end iPhone will retail for 6088 yuan ($990).

According to a published Bloomberg report, the approval process included scrutiny on potential leaks of personal data, with Apple having to take measures in the new release of iOS 8 to eliminate risks from three background diagnostic tools.  Apple reportedly continues to provide specific comment related to specific changes having to be made in the OS to satisfy Chinese regulators.

This latest development places Apple’s channel plans for China back on-track, albeit with a month’s delay in planned product availability. Apple supply chain planners will be adjusting inventory movement plans once again. While all of this is occurring, a robust grey market of product demand has been underway to get the new iPhone models into the hands of eager Chinese consumers who can afford them.  That should ease in the coming weeks.

 


Samsung Counters Apple in a Tactical New Product Introduction Move Concerning China

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Supply Chain Matters has been calling attention to pertinent industry examples of how agile new product development and introduction (NPI) efforts are critically linked to the ability to integrate end-to-end supply chain fulfillment strategies with new product plans.  Samsung Gal_Note_4_Sized

Today brings an important example in consumer electronics, namely the competitive battle among Samsung and Apple in the smartphones arena. 

Readers will recall from our prior update on Apple’s current iPhone 6 product ramp-upand market introduction, that Apple’s prior plans to launch the two new models of smartphones concurrently within China were postponed. Apple communicated this last-minute decision to delay availability to the three state-owned mobile service providers even though these carriers had already queued advertising and launch campaigns. Increased speculation across Wall Street and business media corridors is that China’s regulators are still voicing concerns regarding national security associated with the iPhone itself. 

Today, rival Samsung attempted to take advantage of that situation and announced that its new Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, which features a slightly larger screen, compared to the iPhone 6 Plus will go on sale in China later this month.  According to a report from global business network CNBC, all three Chinese mobile carriers will release the large screen Samsung model smartphone before the end of this month offering Chinese smartphone consumers a potential alternative choice.

Further noted is that the Samsung announcement marks the first time the consumer electronics provider has chosen to release a flagship smartphone in China before other major global markets. As a supply chain community, we can all vision how Samsung’s supply chain planning, fulfillment and product teams had to scramble because of the decision to move the product launch ahead one month and to target China.

It is yet another today example of the increased informational and NPI decision-making dependencies across the extended supply chain, with the ability to ascertain unplanned impacts across the supply chain business network.

Bob Ferrari


The All-Important Apple Product Availability Weekend- Supply Chain Fulfillment Put to the Test

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Today marks simultaneous but select global-wide product availability release of Apple’s latest announced iPhone 6 models, and as noted in our previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, the supply chain is again being again put to the test in assuring customer fulfillment expectations. Consumers from Hong Kong, select European countries and the U.S. now have the opportunity to get their hands on the new models.

The Apple marketing gods pay special attention in hyping sales in the first weekend of iPhone availability.  It adds to the optics of long lines of consumers queuing-up to get their hands on the latest and greatest smartphones and motivating consumers to buy now, while there is still some in-stock. Like other consumer focused companies, revenues in the upcoming holiday quarter can account for a substantial portion of expected financial results.

Thus far, published product reviews concerning the new models have been positive, which adds to positive consumer perceptions. At this same time last year, Apple set a record of 9 million iPhone 5 smartphones being sold on the initial full weekend. That performance came in the midst of ongoing production yield challenges with the premium iPhone 5s model, which demonstrated the highest consumer demand. In 2012, 5 million iPhones were sold on the initial weekend.  Wall Street analysts are floating a number indicating an expectation of 10 million as the bogey for iPhone 6 sales in the first weekend. The bar of expectations grows ever higher.

Earlier this week Apple reported that it had more than 4 million preorders in-hand among the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models during the first 24 hours since the product launch event. Apple also indicated that many of these pre-orders will be delivered in October, a sign of setting proper supply chain realities. Indeed, smartphone carriers such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon are quoting October availability with the U.S., with the Plus model being especially stretched-up for availability.

One rather critical difference this year is that Apple has not been able to extend planned availability of the new model iPhone within China. Last year, China was included in first weekend sales availability. A published article in the New York Times last week (paid subscription or free metered view) reported that Apple communicated a last-minute decision to delay availability to the three state-owned mobile service providers even though these carriers had already queued advertising and launch campaigns. Increased speculation across Wall Street and business media corridors is that China’s regulators are still voicing concerns regarding national security associated with the iPhone itself.  No specifics as to when these concerns will be alleviated has led to added speculation that a grey market for both the new iPhone 6 and older iPhone 5 models will become rampart during the weeks leading up to the end of the year.

However, if Apple’s supply chain planners had factored availability of new models for China on weekend launch, they well may be scrambling to re-configure that inventory to satisfy pent-up demand in adjacent regional markets.

As a community, we often commiserate on the dynamic tensions and often conflicting goals among sales and marketing and supply chain teams which often manifests itself in the S&OP process.  Apple’s supply chain teams are not immune to such tension. Over the coming weeks, as the marketing and sales machine cranks-up consumer motivations to buy, the supply chain will deal with the realities of limited supply, production hiccups and product allocation conflicts among various channels that invariably come up in such situations.  Air freight capacity is already allocated and we can all look for the clear signs of scramble and response.

While some supply chains are challenged with collaborating with sales and marketing on stimulating and shaping product demand, Apple has the current challenge of meeting very high expectations involving an outsourced supply network with many moving parts.  They have pulled miracles in the past, and the stakes get even higher. 

Rabbit_Hat_SizedLet’s look to observe the new collection of rabbits out of the hat with the ongoing    2014 iPhone fulfillment launch.

Stay tuned for updates.

 

 

 

 

Bob Ferrari


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