In the week that Apple staged its massive media event announcing two of its newest iPhone models, BloombergBusinessweek featured an intriguing article titled: Apple’s iPhone 6 First Responders. The report serves as a very timely reminder of the critical importance for harvesting product performance and service reliability information very early in the product launch stages.
The Apple program outlined is termed early field failure analysis (EFFA). The Bloomberg authors had a novel spin as to the purpose, one that may well resonate with our reader audience: “ As customers line up to buy the device (iPhone) around the world, Apple employees will show up at work to learn how they screwed up- and fix it.”
Humor aside, the Apple program was conceived to resolve problems before they become far larger in-scope, when they are far more expensive to resolve across an outsourced supply chain. Bloomberg cites former Apple employee sources as indicating that EFFA testing is most stringent during the device’s first weeks of consumer sales, but can continue longer as problems arise. Therefore, the EFFA program for the iPhone 6 models is most likely underway as we pen this commentary. Once more, the report confirms that defective Apple devices returned at Apple retail outlets are directly airfreighted to Cupertino where the phone is physically examined and where manufacturing history can be traced to individual workers on an assembly line. There are some rather fascinating examples of how previous problems were found and resolved before they became a thorn.
The report is worthy of a read since it provides further evidence of the importance of connecting the service management business process with the product supply chain. It further provides evidence of how Apple’s product management and supply chain teams harness early feedback information related to specific products to avoid more costly issues and to protect the image of the brand. I suppose we could add that it also avoids the wrath of CEO Tim Cook when consumers feedback any displeasure in an Apple product.
In a few short hours, Apple will once again announce a new set of innovative products to the global community amid a flurry of social and business media posts, streaming commentary and headlines. Announcements are expected on the new iPhone 6 models that will include more elegant physical design, innovative materials such as sapphire-based screens, as well as new functionality. Pundits further expect the long-awaited announcement of the wearable iWatch along with a new iPad model that features a super large screen version.
As we have noted in prior Supply Chain Matters commentary, the one certain thing at the end of today is that Apple’s supply chain ecosystem remains under the gun to deliver on the collection of high expectations. There are continued reports of big bets on expected shipments to be supported for the upcoming holiday period, production yield challenges associated with last-minute design change involving the larger screen displays of the iPhone 6, as well as reports of a simultaneous and the unpredicted Q1 introduction of the rumored 12.9 inch iPad in conjunction with the announced Apple-IBM alliance focused on business applications enablement.
TechCrunch recently posted a commentary citing sources indicating that Apple is already tying up air freight capacity out of China for the forthcoming months as it floods channels with last-minute shipments, which is reportedly causing some delays for other manufacturers. Whether that’s true or not, it reflects a certain state. The scramble is in high gear and all hands are expected to be on-deck on a global-wide basis in the coming weeks awaiting input from Apple’s Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process.
Every year at this point, we have noted that Apple’s supply chain is about to be put to the ultimate test. Every year, the stakes seem to get higher and more complex. Like all of our readers, we await the forthcoming chapter in this saga. Can the number one rated supply chain ecosystem repeat in meeting the high expectations and business outcomes of its demanding business partners? Will other high tech and consumer electronics supply chains feel additional impacts?
We will all know the results and the implications in Q1.
Today, Gartner published its annual regional listing of what the analyst firm considers to be ten of the best supply chains in the Asia-Pacific region. Gartner conducts this ranking as a supplement to its Top 25 Global Supply Chain Rankings that are traditionally announced in the fall. According to Gartner, while most of these regionally-based supply chains still need to elevate their supply chain capabilities to compete on a global level, many have dramatically improved their position.
The published ranking for Asia-Pacific Top Ten supply chains were noted as:
- Samsung Electronics (ranked 6th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- Lenovo Group (ranked 16th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- Toyota (reported to have moved up three places in the top ten Asia-Pacific and up 22 places in global ranking but not in current 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- LG Electronics
Overall, Supply Chain Matters believes that this ranking reflects how we would have voted if we were part of the external or peer voting panel. Samsung is especially noteworthy since by many accounts its supply chain is supporting more product and perhaps process innovation than that of its arch competitor, Apple. It is quite interesting to note the appearance of three automotive OEM’s in the Asia Pacific ranking while there are no automotive OEM’s ranked in the global Top 25 rankings. We have been especially impressed with Honda’s global manufacturing sourcing strategies that have helped the company overcome currency challenges and better service global product demand.
At least three of the Gartner Asia-Pacific top ten, namely Samsung, Lenovo and Hyundai practice some form of supply chain vertical integration strategies.
However we were somewhat quite taken-back by the appearance of Sony’s in this top ten ranking, given its profitability challenges in the past few years. Sony has also been aggressively outsourcing parts of its television and certain parts of its consumer electronics supply chain to contract manufacturers in order to aggressively reduce costs. Gartner’s own admission is that Sony is lagging behind some of major competitors.
Again, we are shocked with the lack of recognition toward Foxconn Technology (Hon- Hai Precision), the world’s largest contract manufacturer by revenue and output volume. Foxconn is a major supplier and serves as the lead contract manufacturer for Gartner’s consistently ranked number one global supply chain of Apple. This CMS’s ability to respond to Apple’s intense product innovation requirements as well as rapidly scale volume production is highly noteworthy. We remain highly curious as to why Flextronics does not appear in this top ten regional ranking, let alone the global ranking, but then again, social responsibility strategies concerning workers may be a weighting factor. Another supply chain worthy of consideration is that of TSMC, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer.
Supply Chain Matters has featured commentaries on many of Gartner’s ranked top ten Asia Pacific supply chains. They can be accessed by utilizing our Search box: i.e. Samsung supply chain.
At Supply Chain Matters, we relish when elements of the Wall Street community recognize the critical link of supply chain performance and responsiveness with supporting positive product brand and business outcomes. Thus we were attracted to this week’s posting by Motley Fool concerning what is often rated as the number one supply chain: Is Apple’s Supply Chain a Risk to the Company?
The overall concerns raised in this commentary should not be new news to our community, especially those that often follow Supply Chain Matters. The commentary observes that the supply chain is more difficult than it appears (really!), even though the definition of what is incorporated in supply chain is somewhat simplistic. More importantly is this commentary’s linkage of a corporate culture that is product innovation driven, and how that impacts supply chain responsiveness.
We have brought forward that dimension in many of our Apple supply chain commentaries, the most frequent addressing how last-minute product design changes on the pending iPhone 6 impacted ramp-up production schedules or the current aggressive plan to introduce a new 12.9 inch iPad in Q1 .
A somewhat novel aspect to this commentary is calling attention to the fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook, having come from a background in supply chain, should have been aware of supply chain risks. Our response is: Of course he is aware, and he, in-turn has obvious high expectations in his supply chain partner network to rise to challenge, as they have before.
There is speculation among Wall Street investors as to the scope and breadth Apple’s pending product announcements scheduled next week, along with the market availability of these products in the upcoming holiday focused quarter. In its conclusion, the Motley Fool commentary kind of throws supply chain ‘under the bus’:
“As Apple continues to bring new and exciting technologies to its products, at times there will be delays in both supply and manufacturing processes. In addition, Apple’s going to take its time bringing a cohesive, end-user-focused, product to market. It isn’t always fast, but it’s worth waiting for.”
Supply Chain Matters and many of our community would most likely have a different perspective. A supply chain supporting innovative products as its prime business outcome must be designed to support agility, flexibility and responsiveness to constant product changes and new product introduction cycles. It is not a supply chain driven solely by lowest cost dimensions, but rather scale and responsiveness dimensions.
The good news is that once in a while, Wall Street can appreciate supply chain capability, even as some activist investors constantly strive to destroy years of investment and resources in supply chain capability.
Supply Chain Matters has featured many ongoing commentaries regarding electric powered automotive manufacturer Tesla Motors and its bold “gigafactory” strategic supply strategy. Our last commentary published in mid-August on this topic reflected on the high frenzy of lobbying and proposed incentives among various U.S. states to be designated as the designated site for this massive factory, but the betting for the final site was leaning heavily towards a particular site, that being Nevada.
This afternoon, the formal announcement regarding the chosen site for this massive $5 billion supply facility will be made but business and general media has already running stories concerning disclosed the site, which is an industrial complex near Reno Nevada.
Let’s re-visit the four strategic objectives outlined in our mid-August commentary in light of today’s expected announcement:
Bold supply chain vertical integration
As more information comes to light, there is no doubt in the lens of Supply Chain Matters that Tesla has elected a bold vertical integration strategy. The massive scale of this facility is targeted at reducing the unit costs of lithium-ion batteries by 30 percent. Current reports now cite the statistic that at total capacity, capable of supplying up to 500,000 electric vehicles per year, the plant capacity exceeds than all of the entire automotive industry’s current lithium-ion battery supply needs. However, other information now coming to light indicates that Tesla’s supply strategy extends beyond current automotive industry needs, and could include electric storage needs for public utility, alternative energy or other industry needs.
There are new reports that the Nevada site selection has considerations for being powered by solar, wind and/or geothermal energy methods. as well as being a potential supplier of electrical storage to Las Vegas casinos and entertainment complexes.
Proximity to key commodity supply and transport networks
The site itself is rather close to supplies of the all-important raw material of lithium supply. A report posted on SiliconValley.com observes that Rockwood Lithium, the only operating bulk lithium supplier in the United States could easily supply needed raw material. The sire itself, to be located within the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center is approximately a four hour drive from Tesla’s primary Fremont assembly facility, and does provide for rail services.
A well trained and technically savvy workforce
Currently, Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States. No doubt, the State of Nevada probably included workforce training incentives to staff the new facility. This facility is expected to be highly automated, but previous estimates pegged overall employment at 6500 at full capacity.
Subsidies that may well defray the overall cost burden.
In its reporting of the Tesla Nevada site selection, the Wall Street Journal noted: “Nevada likely offered Tesla one of the largest incentive packages in the history of the U.S. automotive industry.” Reports reinforce Tesla’s prior statements indicating expectations that the designated states would defray upwards of $500 million of this facility’s total $5 billion costs. The Governor of Nevada is expected to convene a special session of that state’s legislature to finalize details of the overall incentives package. We’ll know in the coming days the details of such subsidies, but as noted above, early indicators point to a substantial package.
Tesla is a company whose boldness extends across its entire value-chain. Today’s announcement of Reno Nevada as the site as one of the largest single factories ever constructed in the United States is a testament to such boldness and initiative. The race to a 2017 volume production now begins.
In mid-July, business and social media was abuzz with the announcement that two long-time rivals, Apple and IBM, would team-up in an alliance to create business apps leveraging Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Under the alliance, IBM will create what it terms as “simple” business productivity apps leveraging the respective Apple mobile devices.
Today, Bloomberg released some somewhat stunning news which many are speculating is directly related to above announcement. Supplier sources informed Bloomberg that Apple is preparing to manufacture the largest model iPad ever, a 12.9 inch screen device, with production scheduled to commence in the first quarter of 2015. That is 6-9 months from today.
As we have echoed in previous Supply Chain Matters commentaries, the Apple supplier network is feverishly ramping-up production volumes for new models of iPhones and iPads for the all-important upcoming holiday buying surge period. Apple’s three key suppliers of LCD screens are especially challenged due to a rather late design change incurred on the new iPhone 6 model.
According to the Bloomberg report, this rather large iPad screen model is being positioned to compete in the business applications arena as an alternative device for business tasks currently performed by laptops. The Q1 timing is especially noteworthy since that is the time when Apple’s China based suppliers and contract manufacturers temporarily shut-down for celebration of the Lunar New Year as workers return to their homes and families. It is a period where suppliers recover from the hectic end-of-year scramble. The fact that Apple is targeting yet another product release in this period is a probable sign that the IBM-Apple discussions were already in the planning stages prior to the official announcement last month. Both parties are aggressively planning to take advantage of the alliance opportunities.
Apple’s supply chain, S&OP teams and value-chain partners are once again going to be put to the test of simultaneous volume production ramp-ups involving a multitude of products including a new iWatch as well as phones and tablets. There is obviously little room for snafu’s and LCD screen suppliers may well be the critical linchpin to pull-off a series of simultaneous successful product launches.