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Breaking Supply Chain News: Blast Occurrence at BASF Ludwigshafen Chemical Production Complex

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Reports indicated that that an explosion has occurred at the massive BASF chemical production complex in Ludwigshafen Germany.

Initial indications are that two employees have unfortunately lost their lives and two others are currently missing.  Six people are reported as seriously injured as a result of the explosion which reportedly occurred on a supply line connecting a harbor and a tank depot on the Ludwigshafen site at around 1120 local time (0920 GMT).

As many our readers may be aware, BASF is one of the largest global manufacturers of chemicals utilized across multi-industry supply chains.The Ludwigshafen site, which is 50 miles south of Frankfurt, is recognized as world’s largest chemical complex, covering an area of 10 square kilometers (four square miles) and employing 39,000 workers.

Reports we are monitoring indicate that production operations have been suspended at the BASF steamcrackers utilized to convert hydrocarbons into other chemicals. According to a published report from The Wall Street Journal, it is believed that the current suspension will initially suspend the supply of raw material chemicals supporting 20 other plants which are either in the process of shutdown or only partially operating.

According to a published report by Reuters, news of the explosion came less than two hours after BASF ad indicated that four people were injured in a gas explosion at its Lampertheim facility, a plant near Ludwigshafen that makes additives for plastics.

Obviously this is troubling news for many industry supply chains, particularly those residing in the Eurozone, and bears continual monitoring for any ongoing disruption of product supply chains.

 


General Electric Continues with Aggressive Investment Plans

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These past few weeks have been rather noteworthy for General Electric in terms of acquisitions, most of which point toward continued investment and leveraging of advanced technology for industrial manufacturing and transportation service’s needs.

In late August, GE’s Transportation business unit announced its acquisition of ShipExpress, a provider of Cloud-based software that supports transportation, industrial and commodities businesses to more efficiently collaborate with supply chain partners. According to the announcement, this deal will extend GE Transportation’s portfolio of technology directed at the logistics supply chain, expanding the opportunities to deliver incremental information and transactional services for railroad customers. The acquisition further deepens GE Transportation’s domain expertise, enriching the division with a talent pool of nearly 200 industry, technical, and software development experts.

Last week, GE additionally announced plans to acquire two premiere suppliers of metal-based 3D printing devices, Arcam AB and SLM Solutions Group AG for a combined $1.4 billion. Both companies will report into the firm’s GE Aviation unit, an indication for further leveraging of additive manufacturing techniques in the production of aircraft engines. In addition, GE Aviation will lead the integration effort and the GE Store initiative to drive broader additive manufacturing applications across GE.

According to the announcement, Arcam AB, based in Mölndal, Sweden, invented the electron beam melting machine for metal-based additive manufacturing, and also produces advanced metal powders. Its customers are in the aerospace and healthcare industries. Arcam generated $68 million in revenues in 2015 with approximately 285 employees. In addition to its Sweden site, Arcam operates AP&C, a metal powders operation in Canada, and DiSanto Technology, a medical additive manufacturing firm in Connecticut, as well as sales and application sites worldwide.

SLM Solutions Group, based in Lübeck, Germany, produces laser machines for metal-based additive manufacturing with customers in the aerospace, energy, healthcare, and automotive industries. SLM generated $74 million in revenues in 2015 with 260 employees. In addition to its operations in Germany, SLM has sales and application sites worldwide.

Business media has noted that GE has long been a proponent of industrial 3D printing, utilizing the techniques to produce customized fuel nozzles for GE Aviation’s new LEAP jet engines.  The LEAP engine is the new aircraft engine produced by CFM International, a 50/50 joint company of GE and Safran Aircraft Engines of France. More than 11,000 LEAP engines are on order with up to 20 fuel nozzles in every engine,  GE-CFM CFM56 LEAP engine

GE has invested approximately $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies since 2010. According to the announcement, this investment has enabled the company to develop additive applications across six GE businesses, create new services applications across the company, and earn 346 patents in powder metals alone. In addition, the additive manufacturing equipment will leverage Predix and be a part of GE’s Brilliant Factory initiative. Investing an incremental $1 billion in this area is another important indication of the seriousness that GE attributes to additive manufacturing techniques, particularly given the backlog of thousands of orders for new more technologically advanced and fuel efficient jet engines.

We recently highlighted the challenges of rival aircraft engine producer Pratt & Whitney, currently experiencing a number of supply chain challenges related to its new geared turbo-fan commercial aircraft engine.  Pratt has exercised a different manufacturing and supply chain strategy than rival GE, one that places more emphasis on component suppliers as opposed to in-house manufacturing automation and production capability.


General Electric Embarks on New Footprint for the Future of Manufacturing

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General Electric broke ground today for its brand new Welland, Ontario, Brilliant Factory located just across the Canadian border from Buffalo New York.  The diversified manufacturing conglomerate indicates that this plant, when operational in approximately 20 months: “will strengthen the base of North American manufacturing and equalize the region’s ability to compete where direct labor costs are cheaper.” The decision to move the plant to Canada from a previous U.S. location was politically charged.

According to a GE Reports commentary, the new factory will produce massive Waukesha branded natural gas powered reciprocating engines that are primarily utilized in petroleum and oil and gas exploration. The plant will further produce other components for GE’s Transportation, Oil & Gas and Power business units. What makes the facility different is that production equipment machines will have embedded sensors with the plant connected to GE’s Industrial Internet via use of GE’s Predix software platform. Near real-time streaming data from production processes will then be available to manufacturing and product engineers allowing quicker needed changes to production and faster prototyping and commercialization of parts. GE’s $165 million investment in Weiland follows plans to build similar “brilliant factories” in the U.S. including Greenville, South Carolina.

GE’s chief manufacturing scientist is quoted in the commentary as noting that with the application of these combined technologies, factories no longer need to be sourced where labor is cheaper. Instead, they can compete where educated workers can make the most of advanced technology, and where opportunities can be leveraged to shorten supply chains and reduce inventories.

However, there are obvious realities to smarter plants that will leverage streaming data, constant feedback loops and advanced analytics.  According to the GE commentary, the new plant will employ 220 highly skilled employees.

The Waukesha branded engines were previously produced at a factory located in Waukesha Wisconsin that employed a reported 350 employees. That plant began operations in 1910. In September 2015, GE indicated plans to move the facility to Canada citing concerns over the U.S. Congress’s failure to re-authorize the U.S. ExportImport Bank.  At the time, a senior GE executive indicated: “We believe in American manufacturing, but our customers in many cases require Export Credit Agencies financing for us to bid on projects. Without it, we cannot compete, and our customers may be forced to select other providers.” Since that time, the U.S. Congress has yet to re-authorize the bank.

The news came as an unexpected shock to both factory employees and local community residents. President Barack Obama toured the Waukesha Wisconsin plant in January 2014, praising its worker apprentice training and re-education programs, calling them a model for the U.S.

GE has made an obvious bold move from two dimensions. One is an effort at self-demonstrating the benefits of GE’s termed Industrial Internet powered by the Predix operating platform in its owned production operations.  The other is straddling the political waters of demonstrating an ongoing commitment to both U.S. and North America based production and the realities of a global economy that must deal with international financial and labor markets.

How both turn out is a matter of time.

Bob Ferrari

 

 


The Newest Phase for Elongated Supplier Payments- More Aggressive Supplier Push-Back

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Of late, the trend of extending payment terms to suppliers should not be any new news to many of our Supply Chain Matters readers since such practices continue to gain multi-industry momentum. Such momentum continues because private equity firms and high powered consultants in finance now advocate and practice this tactic as a means to boost earnings and operating cash flow.  However, what we view as an even more disturbing trend is current more aggressive efforts by suppliers to now push back by exercising whatever options they have, up to and including significant supply disruptions.

To ascertain the scope of the trend towards extending payments to suppliers, we exercised a Google search this morning on the term: News- suppliers not being paid. That search yielded and eye-popping 9.7 million item results, an obvious indication of industry-wide trending.

Just about a year ago, Bloomberg published an article: Big Companies Don’t Pay Their Bills on Time. The author, Justin Fox attributed the increased trend among large global companies to extend payments to suppliers to two principle influences. The first was Amazon, that being yet another aspect what we often describe as “the Amazon effect.”  In essence, the online retailer had a cash conversion cycle of negative 24 days in 2014, meaning the online retailer received cash from customers 24 days before it was paid out to suppliers. The other major influence was noted as Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Capital which has acquired well known consumer brands and operates primarily today as Anheuser-Busch InBev. A chart in the Bloomberg report indicates that since the acquisition of Anheuser in 2008, supplier payments stretched to near 260 days by 2014 with InBev on-average paying suppliers 176 days after the company was paid by customers. That is nearly six months of cash float.

Similarly, after previously attending this year’s Institute of Supply Management (ISM) annual conference, this author penned a blog commentary on a session where private equity firm representatives leveraged their stated tactic of operational intervention and improvement, namely concentration in procurement policies to harvest cash flow and margin savings.

The Bloomberg article further charts well-known names Procter and Gamble, Mondelez and Kimberly-Clark, who collectively have to now respond to 3G’s industry presence with the acquisition of both Heinz and Kraft. in the consumer-goods sector. By 2014, days payable outstanding for all three had grown to between 70 and 85 days.

And so the ripple effect of this trend continues offering the brand owner opportunities to leverage cash flows, product margins and profitability, while the ripple effects cascade down the to the remainder of the supply chain.

The open question now remains as to what are various industry norms for paying suppliers, and invariably, the principles of supplier survival and stakeholder interest come into play when such practices become more wide-spread. More and more, such incidents seem to be on the increase.

In early July, General Motors encountered a brief supply disruption over a contract dispute and bankruptcy filing from Clark-Cutler-McDermott Co. a component supplier for 175 acoustic insulation and interior trim parts that are apparently utilized in nearly every vehicle GM produces in North America. The supplier stopped producing parts for GM after work shifts on a Friday and laid off its workforce. Subsequently the supplier refused to grant GM access to any remaining inventory or production tools forcing GM layers to enter a legal process proceeding in bankruptcy court to gain rights to tooling and any leftover inventory.

In late July, avionics producer Rockwell Collins issued a public statement directed at Boeing, indicating that the commercial aircraft producer owed Rockwell $30-$40 million in overdue supplier payments and noted as a breach of contractual supply agreements between the two companies. Rockwell supplies cockpit avionics displays for the Boeing 787 and newly developed 737 MAX aircraft. The CEO of Rockwell openly indicated in his firm’s report of financial performance that Boeing had contributed to Rockwell’s reported financial shortfalls. In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal observed that the industry relationship among Rockwell and Boeing was previously noted for positive collaboration in ongoing cost-control efforts resulting in Rockwell gaining additional supply contracts involving other produced commercial and military aircraft.

Similarly, British based GKN, a supplier of cabin windows, ice protection systems and winglets, openly called Boeing to task for extending supplier payments. Both Reuters and The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported that to boost its cash flows, Boeing was extending supplier payments from 30 days, too upwards of 120 days while at the same time continuing efforts to scale-up the supply chain to address upwards of ten years in booked orders.

Other noteworthy news related to supplier push have involved UK retailer Tesco as well as global  iron and steel producer Rio Tinto.

The most recent public incident of outright supply disruption is now Volkswagen dealing with the possibility of reduced working hours involving multiple German based final assembly plants resulting from a supplier dispute with two suppliers, Car Trim and ES Automobilguss. Car Trim reportedly supplies parts for seating and ES Automobilguss produces gearbox components for a variety of different VW car models. As of today, business media is reporting that negotiations are ongoing to resolve the matter after the suppliers cut component supply deliveries feeding four final assembly plants. The suppliers have denied responsibility for the situation, indicating that VW cancelled contracts without explanation or compensation and the decision to halt delivery was taken to protect their own workforces. As we pen this posting, upwards of 10,000 workers at VW’s main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany are close to being idled due to parts shortages. Both suppliers, which are part of holding company Prevent, have denied any responsibility in the pending supply disruption claiming that VW is responsible for creating its own supply crisis because of the lack of timely payments to suppliers and that the suppliers’ decisions were taken to protect their own workforces and financial health.

Thus we observe a common theme beginning to manifest across different industry supply chain settings, more aggressive supplier push-back to existing payment terms and the transfer of the burden of cash-flow.

In prior Supply Chain Matters postings, this Editor has not been very keen on such strategies namely because of the short and longer-term havoc imposed on supply chain capabilities and ongoing relationships. But, with the realities of the current business environment being what they are, and with so many firms now under the short-term professional looking glass, the elongated payment strategies extend, testing such relationships. This is obviously not healthy, and many other voices are beginning or have already concluded as-such.

Our prior advice to procurement professionals was essentially to be forewarned and prepared since those possessing or prepared with termed financial engineering skills can reap some short-term financial and other bonus rewards.

We now extend advice to the broader supply chain management leadership and operations management communities. If you have little choice but to exercise such strategies, best be prepared for the new consequences of supplier push back and potentially harmful supply disruptions and eroded supplier relationships.

The age old adage remains that long-term success is built on two-way, win-win relationships. An I win-you lose relationships helps lawyers to stay gainfully engaged and your supply chain to be in constant jeopardy. When times are good, such strategies can yield some benefits. When times are challenged, such as the 2008-2009 global recession, they often lead to massive supply disruptions or calls for mutual sacrifice from suppliers.  They further lead to missed opportunities for joint-collaboration on product and process innovation since suppliers are indeed savvy to stick with customers to consistently try to adhere to win-win relationship building.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

 


Tesla’s Revised Master Plan Provides More Product Engineering and Supply Chain Implications

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Last week, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk penned a blog posting that essentially updated the master plan for the company that called for a broader product development thrust into hybrid trucks and buses. This places a far broader emphasis on the firm’s supply chain ramp-up challenges, one with the implication that Tesla will, by our view, have to seriously consider adding to existing final assembly production capacity beyond its current Fremont California facility.Tesla ModelX_Live

The commentary itself not only provides an argument for why the electric car company must merge with SolarCity, but a further expansion of the master plan that includes:

  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it

New product offerings were described as a new form of pick-up truck, and beyond the consumer vehicles market, an innovative heavy-duty trucks and high passenger density urban transport vehicle. Regarding the latter, Musk envisions a smaller footprint of urban busses with a transition from the role of individual bus driver to one of fleet manager. Both are noted as in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be available for unveiling next year, and will follow the availability of the more affordable Model 3 currently due in 2017.

Supply Chain Matters previously highlighted efforts of truck maker Nicola Motor Company in developing a Class 8, 2000 horsepower electric powered semi-tractor truck that will be named the Nicola One. This manufacturer has to-date booked 7000 reservations, each accompanied by a $1500 deposit, totaling more than $2.3 billion in cash to secure a reservation for this new vehicle, hence the sense of urgency for Tesla to enter such a market.

To state that the latest master plan is audacious or ambitious is an understatement. It places a far more concentrated focus on whether product development and the supply chain can rise to the challenge in such a short timeframe.

As noted, our last Supply Chain Matters commentary on Tesla concluded that the company remains challenged by supply chain ramp-up issues as it strives to meet aggressive short and long-term production and supply chain needs of existing announced vehicles. Musk has literally accelerated by two years, his goal to have the California final assembly facility output 500,000 vehicles per year. In his latest blog post, Musk once again re-iterated that this will be addressed as a function of engineering:

What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future is being able to scale up production volume as quickly as possible. That is why Tesla engineering has transitioned to focus heavily on designing the machine that makes the machine — turning the factory itself into a product.

The adding of commercial vehicles with more innovative hardware and software designs implies no choice but to accelerate capacity, strategic commodity and supply chain wide resources. Just today, The Wall Street Journal reports (Paid subscription required) that Tesla’s new $5 billion “gigafactory” near Sparks Nevada to produce the combined company’s battery component needs is currently one-sixth of its planned future footprint. Currently, 1000 construction workers are working two shifts per day, seven days per week to prepare for 2017 needs in the output of lithium-ion cells. Primary battery supplier Panasonic admits to the current challenges of finding qualified production workers, and with the addition of even more models of transport vehicles, the scale of the battery plant’s capability become crucial.  But so does final assembly and distribution as well, in an area that is noted for rather expensive real estate and distribution space.

Thus, any experienced or even entry level supply chain and manufacturing professionals that enjoy an environment of fast-paced innovation and creativity in business process and physical supply chain processes best route your resumes to Tesla. We anticipate a razor-like focus that harnesses the fusion of engineering, product development and supply chain management into a kaleidoscope of expansion that will test current norms and thinking.

Bob Ferrari


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