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China Branded Trains Appearing in a U.S. Subway System

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If our readers have had the occasion to travel to Boston, you might have experienced the public transit subway system which is referred to as the “T”. Typical to the historic nature of the city, its subway system dates back to the late 1800’s. Today, its subway lines are denoted by colors, namely the Red, Green, Orange and Silver lines.

Last week, another very important milestone took place.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded a contract to China’s state-owned CNR Corp. for the replacement and delivery of 284 modern subway cars.  The important headline for this development was the awarded contract cost, namely $567 million, is a rather compelling sum for this amount of modern equipment. 

It its reporting, Bloomberg News echoed that this was the first deal of this kind for a Chinese company in the U.S.: “The deal breaks new ground for Chinese train makers whose overseas push, backed by Premier Li Keqiang, has been mostly limited to developing markets.” According to CNR officials, this deal eventually places CNR equipment in all of the world’s six continents.

The contract calls for CNR to replace 152 Orange Line subway cars, that line’s entire fleet, which has an average of 1.5 million miles of service per car. Additionally, 132 Red Line subway cars which date back 27 years and have racked up to 2.3 million average miles will also be replaced.  CNR will construct a new $60 million final assembly manufacturing facility at a former closed Westinghouse factory site located in Springfield, a central city in Massachusetts. The new production facility is expected to employ upwards of 150 factory workers.

Since the contract stipulates that 60 percent of the work to take place in the U.S., Supply Chain Matters speculates that the subway car components will be imported directly from China, most likely by ship via and expanded Panama Canal routing to an east coast port.

The timetable calls for a three to four year design phase, with initial pilot cars delivered in 2018, and production car output spanning the years 2019-2021. The deal has an additional option for the delivery of 58 additional Red Line cars.

The specifications for these new subway calls call for adding an additional 15 additional passengers per car, wider accessibility doors, LED lighting, regenerative braking systems, environmentally friendly HVAC and advanced customer information systems.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), operator of Boston’s transit system has struggled with its finances for many years, falling behind in any efforts to invest in new operating equipment.  Thus, the opportunity to replace this amount of equipment at the stated cost had to be a very attractive proposition for taxpayers.  However, it has to a rather concerning development and omen for existing train equipment manufacturers.

A reported six companies bid on this replacement contract. Bidders were reported to have been evaluated on criteria ranging from technical and manufacturing experience, quality assurance, reliability as well as price. In its reporting, Bloomberg noted that the CNR price was a little more than half that of Bombardier and other bidders included Hyundai Rotem Co. of South Korea and Kawasaki Rail Car of Japan. An MBTA spokesperson later added that that agency found no human rights violations with CNR.

Rival state-owned CSR Corp. is reportedly keen to supply high-speed trains to the State of California. A published Reuters report indicates U.S.-based SunGroup USA indicated to Reuters earlier last week that it had teamed up with CNR and its unit Tangshan Railway in a pitch to supply California’s $68 billion project with up to 95 trains that can travel as fast as 354 kilometers per hour (221 miles per hour). That news is significant in that CSR could possibly team up with rival CNR, the recipient of the recent Massachusetts subway car contract, for the California contract. About a dozen firms are expected to compete for the California project.

And then there is one more development.  An additional Bloomberg report published yesterday indicates that both CNR and CSR will make “a major announcement” in about a week. The report cites speculation that China’s State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) is seeking the merger of the two companies to boost exports of high-speed railway technologies.

Obviously, China has indeed set aggressive targets for exporting train equipment and supply chains to global markets and developments are moving rather quickly.

Bob Ferrari

 


Gartner Announces Ranking of Top 15 European Supply Chains

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This week, Gartner unveiled its annual regional listing of what the analyst firm considers to be fifteen of the best supply chains in the European 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, the top three European supply chains, Unilever,Inditex and H&M, remain unchanged and continue to lead in supply chain excellence while Seagate Technology made its debut in the number four ranking. Three new company supply chains also made a presence in the Gartner Europe ranking.

The published ranking for Europe Top 15 supply chains were noted as:

  1. Unilever (ranked 4th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
  2. Inditex (ranked 11th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
  3. H&M (ranked 13th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
  4. Seagate Technology (ranked 20th in 2014 Top 25 ranking)
  5. Nestle (ranked 25th in 2014 Top 25 ranking)
  6. L’Oreal
  7. BMW
  8. GlaxoSmithKline
  9. Diageo
  10.  Ahold
  11. Delphi Automotive
  12. BASF
  13. Volkswagen
  14. Reckitt Benckiser
  15. Syngenta

 

Similar to our view of this week’s Gartner’s Asia-Pacific rankings, Supply Chain Matters believes that this ranking reflects how we would have voted if we were part of the external or peer voting panel.  Unilever is indeed a great supply chain competing in a very challenging CPG industry group. As we noted in our commentary associated with Gartner’s Top 25 ranking, Unilever has made steady progress over the past three years and deserves special recognition. Inditex has long been an icon when describing a top retail focused supply chain that is extraordinary in sensing and responding to fashion and customer demand. Seagate Technology as well, has bounced back from the near disaster of disruption and supply shortages caused by the 2011 floods in Thailand. L’Oreal has made great strides in integrating supply chain planning and execution across its supply chain business network. Nestle deserves its recognition especially in leading with industry-leading supply chain sustainability initiatives.

Three of the Gartner European Top 15 reside in the automotive industry sector which has been an industry segment not previously noted for consistent supply chain excellence. Both BMW and Volkswagen have been deploying a global based product platform strategy and have weathered the European economic crisis through a focus on international markets.

Also noteworthy is the appearance of two pharmaceutical supply chains, Glaxo and Reckitt in Gartner’s Europe ranking.

We believe that a ranking of the top Europe supply chains has even more significance given the ongoing challenges related to the severe economic conditions that have impacted Europe. These are supply chains that had to demonstrate various aspects of resiliency to insure required business and product outcomes.

Tip of the HatSupply Chain Matters again extends its congratulations and recognition to each of the named supply chain organizations for achieving such recognition.  There is obviously hard work that goes into achieving such recognition and citation and it should be acknowledged.

Bob Ferrari

 


Gartner Announces Top Ten Best Supply Chains in Asia Pacific Region

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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:

  1. Samsung Electronics (ranked 6th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
  2. Lenovo Group (ranked 16th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
  3. 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)
  4. Hyundai
  5. Huawei
  6. Woolworths
  7. Honda
  8. Flextronics
  9. LG Electronics
  10. Sony

 

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.

Bob Ferrari


Factory Destruction Across Vietnam: Supply Chain Sourcing Flexibility and Resiliency Has Never Been as Important

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In the quest to seek alternative global low-cost manufacturing sourcing across multi-industry supply chains, countries such as Thailand and Vietnam were high on the list.  Both offered relatively attractive direct labor wage rates while offering a highly educated and motivated workforce. Up to this point, that has resulted in a steady flow of foreign investment in these countries including internal supply chain ecosystem capabilities.

All of this is now subject to current re-evaluation because of new political and social unrest that is occurring in these countries.  The most visible has been Vietnam where this week, anti-China related violence has caused widespread rioting across the country, targeting factories and industrial parks that rioters believe are owned by Chinese interests. This rioting began earlier this week and according to various global media reports has resulted in arson and vandalism involving multitudes of factories and businesses owned by Japanese, Malaysian, South Korean and Taiwanese ownership since rioters have not been precise in targeting.

The protests were apparently prompted by Vietnamese citizen outrage over an oil rig that China placed in a disputed part of the South China Sea. We have read reports of some speculation that the core anger may be more broadly directed at accumulated anger against foreign-based exploitation within the country. The government of China is holding the Vietnamese government responsible for not taking more definitive actions to curb the rioting and damage.  A report published by the Wall Street Journal today indicates that upwards of 3000 Taiwanese and 600 Chinese citizens were fleeing the country amid fear of further violence. 

While foreign based business people flee Vietnam for fear of personal safety, a large number of factories have halted production because of either damage or lack of workers. Thus, the potential for significant industry supply chain disruption in the automotive, footwear, high tech, consumer goods and other areas is growing each day. It would appear that many brand owners and foreign interests are looking to the government of Vietnam to curb the current building wave of violence and factory destruction and avoid the current situation from quickly moving from the current bad to a far worse situation.

Meanwhile, continued political unrest across Thailand continues to provide an uneasy environment as violent protests continue sporadically across that country.  Yesterday, there were reports that at least three anti-government protestors were killed and 22 were injured as government authorities fired guns and lobbed grenades at antigovernment protestors.

Supply Chain Matters has previously noted how significant incidents social unrest has led to a new wave of worker protests within China’s low-cost manufacturing sectors such as footwear. Political tensions involving China and Japan over disputed ownership of islands continue and have both supply and product demand impacts to certain Japan based firms.

From our lens, the notions of global sourcing are beginning to take on a new risk management perspective, that being social, national and political unrest along with the longer-term implications of that unrest.  The notions that industry supply chains can continually follow a singular strategy that is solely directed at sourcing in low-cost countries is being challenged, and increasingly requires a re-evaluation. Global sourcing now includes far more considerations beyond the cost of direct labor, and as we have continually noted, are now taking on social, political and employer of choice perception aspects.  The ramifications apply not only to product brand owners, but to industry supply ecosystems. 

We believe that these incidents are not isolated and business and supply chain teams need to focus on much broader trends and their implications in access to foreign markets and supply chain ecosystems. The need for supply chain sourcing flexibility and resiliency has never been as important as it is now becoming. Insure that your firm and its supply chain strategies are prepared to manage among these new challenges and needs.

Bob Ferrari

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


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..


The Need for More Active and Measurable Social Responsibility Committments

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While on an airplane early this morning flying to Tampa Florida, this author had the opportunity to catch-up on business magazine readings.  Two articles published in two different editions of Bloomberg BusinessWeek provided us more evidence that labor social responsibility trends concerning global-based production sourcing will occupy more agenda time for supply management and other executives. Labor activism continues to be a trend among so-termed, lower cost manufacturing regions, and the implications are significant for cost and product branding considerations over the coming months.

Supply Chain Matters has featured a number of commentaries concerning the ongoing social responsibility developments concerning Bangladesh, specifically those impacting apparel and retail supply chains. The production of garments and apparel accounts for 6 percent of that country’s GDP, and almost 80 percent is exported to other global markets. In the April 28- May 4, 2014 edition of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the article: For Bangladeshi Women, Work is Worth the Risks, profiles a trend of a predominantly female dominated workforce in that country’s garment factories.  This article profiles a mother who was injured but able to survive the fire that occurred at the Tazreen Fashions factory killing 112 of her co-workers, yet she continues in her occupation to better the livelihood for her children.  It cites that in 2011, according to a Yale University study, about 12 percent of Bangladeshi women, ages 15 to 30 worked in the garment industry and that hunching over a sewing machine in a 10 hour shift is perceived as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to better the lives of their family members. According to this article, despite the deaths of at least 2000 factory workers since 2005 because of fires and accidents, women in this nation view apparel factory work as a means to claw their way out of poverty, yet they continue to fear for their personal safety and a decent work environment. The cited Yale University study indicates that 27 percent more of young girls have been able to attend school and obtain a basic education than before the garment industry began its increased sourcing in the country.

However, global retailers and factory owners remain at a crossroads as to actively supporting industry initiatives, consortium funding mechanisms and product sourcing incentives to improve basic safety and working conditions among the country’s apparel factories.

A contrast concerns China, where a once predominantly female workforce among this country’s electronics, apparel, and other industries has transformed to a more male dominated workforce. The May 5-May 11 edition of BloombergBusinessWeek features an article, China’s Young Men Act Out in Factories.  It quotes a spokesperson at Foxconn, the largest global contract manufacturer, that: “…the factory workforce is now about two-thirds male and more “rowdy” than when it was half female five years ago. The younger generation doesn’t want to continue doing work that is very mundane.” The article points to the trend of a more activist workforce willing to undergo work stoppages to gain more economic benefits. Other workforce issues, such as on-the-job sexual harassment that include offensive comments and grouping of female workers are cited. The article quotes a source as indicating that the recent labor strike involving athletic shoe producer Yue Yuen Industrial was led by 100 all-male workers.  Contract manufacturers Foxconn and Flextronics are reported to be responding to these demographic workforce shifts by sponsoring “date nights” and other worker counseling programs.

What struck this author were the contrasts and similarities for both reports.  A female dominated workforce in Bangladesh for the most part, endures workplace perils to sacrifice for the better good of families.  A now predominately male workforce in China has become much more activist and vocal for motivations of career, marriage, and future benefits. The commonality is increased activism, appealing to social conscience and the collective voice of many to stop abuses and the taking of workers welfare and advancement opportunities for granted.

The primary motivations for the era of global outsourcing, namely significantly lower costs, is being challenged among multiple industry supply chains. A surgical approach to these trends is to address them in isolation.  A general assumption that social responsibility and conscience can be outsourced or belongs solely to individual suppliers is wearing thin.  There needs to be monetary qualifiers and incentives that address a brand owner’s commitment to social responsibility in the same light and milestones that are affixed to many of today’s environmental responsibility commitments.

Adding more pressures for increased automation or production robots for specific supplier factories, finding the next low-cost sourcing alternative, negotiating for even lower unit costs or adding more action phrases to corporate social responsibility policies that umbrella the supply chain are not the sole remedies. An industry social conscience needs to step forward, one that positions supply chains squarely into key performance indicators and performance objectives directly related to achievement of global social responsibility.

Bob Ferrari

 


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