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2017 Predictions- The 3M Perspective on the Need for Bimodal Supply Chain Capabilities

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In preparing our overall 2017 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains, and specifically our prior posting, Prediction One- What to Expect in Global Economic Activity, we had the opportunity to speak with both industry, supply chain and technology executives to gain current perspectives of what supply chains should anticipate in the coming months and how to be prepared.

One opportunity was a discussion with Paul Keel, Senior Vice President, Supply Chain for diversified manufacturer 3M Company. In my role as a supply chain industry analyst, my perspectives of 3M extend nearly 15 years, when I first interacted with members of the 3M supply chain leadership team. A lot has occurred since that time, and that came to be the context of the discussion with Keel.

The 3M of today is a $30 billion diversified manufacturer whose supply chains support 5 different business sectors that span both B2B and B2C focused market segments. Industry products are quite diversified spanning industries such as automotive, commercial aerospace, communications, healthcare, high tech electronics and transportation. The consumer segment is the wide variety of 3M branded products that many of us are familiar with including the iconic branded Post-It note pads. Today’s 3M has deeper roots as multi-industry supplier. The company has always been anchored in core manufacturing and today that includes upwards of 220 worldwide manufacturing plants. It all amounts to a considerable scope for 3M’s supply chain teams.

In our interview, Keel referenced Q4 of 2008 as an important milestone checkpoint for 3M, one that created acute awareness to the potential of heightened volatility of industry and global markets brought about by the global financial crisis. He described that point as “opening the aperture” of the 3M of 30 years ago, as a $3B manufacturer, and the aspirations of what 3M has become today in ten-fold revenue growth.  The described anchor has been that of a complete product innovation and continuous improvement mindset across the company. It was also a wake-up call that supply chain capabilities do matter, and that 3M had to excel in all aspects of supply chain competencies.

Regarding 2017 predictions relative to heightened industry competition, continued market uncertainties and potential volatility, Keel remains of the belief that the supply chain will play an increasingly differentiating role for high-performing organizations. He states:

In the hyper-competitive world of global business, we’re finding new ways that supply chain must lead. While historically organizations looked to their supply chains primarily for productivity and cost reduction, today high-performing companies count on us for much more – developing new products, protecting our environment, serving our customers, and driving meaningful value creation across the enterprise.  Fully leveraging the power of supply chain begins with the proper mindset.  ‘Make and deliver’ is no longer enough.  To win in 2017, we’ll need to ‘amaze and delight.’”

Keel further described the notions of a bimodal supply chain perspective:

There was a time when supply chains could settle for trade-offs…cost or speed, service or quality, flexibility or reliability.   Those days are long gone.  The equation has shifted from an imbalanced ‘or’ to an equilibrium centered on ‘and.’  Information and technology are central to achieving this synchronization.  The leaders of tomorrow will be the organizations that can effectively manage a bimodal supply chain.”

We also discussed technology as the enabler of bimodal capabilities. Keel described 3M’s perspective as: “Asset-light and Information-heavy.” In the bimodal lens, it translates to enabling greater levels of efficiency in overall productivity levers, in an end-to-end supply chain risk mitigation approach to manage volatility, and general in moving forward with overall global optimization. The other technology lens is that of the business growth enablement lever, manifested by enabling continued end-to-end supply chain segmentation capabilities along with digitization of supply chain processes and decision-making needs.

Keel further pointed to corporate sustainability and social responsibility initiatives as an essential mindset going forward and a further component of bimodal. For 3M, this equates to declared responsibilities to communities, to employees and to the environment.

Bob Ferrari

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

 


New Developments and Potential Added Risks for Chinese Branded Subway Cars in the U.S.

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In October of 2014 we alerted Supply Chain Matters readers to a noteworthy milestone development, namely Chinese designed and branded railway cars appearing in a U.S. subway system. Since that time, much as occurred, and this week, there is yet another development, one that perhaps has implications for the upcoming administration of President- Elect Donald Trump.

The headline back in 2014 was that the State of Massachusetts Department of Transportation selected China’s state-owned CNR Corp. for the replacement and delivery of 284 modern subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), also locally known as the “T’.

This was the first Chinese manufacturer to win a U.S. based major transit system equipment replacement contract. The further significance was twofold. First, the awarded contract cost, namely $566 million, was a rather affordable sum for this amount of modern rail equipment, far underbidding other railcar manufacturers. According to local news reports, CNR aggressively courted the Massachusetts transit system to gain a foothold in the U.S. rail equipment market. A further significance was that the contract called for the railcars to be assembled at a new final assembly manufacturing facility at a former closed Westinghouse factory site located in Springfield, a central city in Massachusetts. Assembly operations would therefore be U.S. based, with the expectation that other U.S. equipment supply contracts could follow. Major components however, would be produced in China and transported to the U.S. for final assembly of railcars.

Since that time, there have been other developments.

China’s government facilitated the merger of China’s two major state-owned rail manufacturers which included CNR. The combined China Railroad Rolling Stock Corp. then created a local U.S. subsidiary to administer contract delivery needs involving the U.S. including the MBTA contract.

The state-owned China U.S. subsidiary has since landed a major equipment replacement deal with the Chicago Transit Authority, described as a monumental overhaul of the transit authority rail car equipment, amounting to a $1.3 billion contract to replace 846 rail cars, about half of the existing subway car fleet — the biggest car purchase in that agency’s history. The described new generation of railcars also called for localized final assembly to be performed at a new final assembly manufacturing facility to be located on the Southeast Side of Chicago. This assembly facility is expected to be in operation for a total of 10 years with railcar prototypes coming out in 2019, and initial cars being delivered into operational service  in 2020. The CSR Sifang America bid came in $226 million lower than that of Bombardier Railcar Equipment, the most recent manufacturer of Chicago’s railcar fleet. Since that time, competing bidder Bombardier filed a protest with the agency, saying that the bidding process was rigged in favor of a Chinese firm that promised to bring manufacturing jobs to Chicago.

This week, the Massachusetts based MBTA control board voted to authorize as much as $277 million to acquire an additional 134 Red Line railcars as an extension of the existing contract with the China based railcar producer. This amended change to the existing contract bypassed standard bidding procedures because the agency indicated that it was seeking to standardize its entire network-wide fleet of both Orange and Red Line cars. The MBTA considered rebuilding the 184 existing Red Line cars not scheduled to be replaced in the initial contract, but a financial analysis had indicated that brand new cars would cost as much as $310,000 less than overhauling the existing ones. The added Red Line cars are expected to replace the entire existing fleet by the end of 2023.

Specifics of the amended agreement were reportedly revealed publicly for the first time on Monday of this week.  Board members were asked to approve the deal that same day, to supposedly avoid a price increase and to secure local manufacturing capacity.

Supply Chain Matters brought initial attention to China’s state-owned railway efforts to make a more sustained equipment presence within the U.S. because it included both global and domestic supply chain implications.  The plans calling for many of the major train components to be produced in China and shipped to the U.S. for final assembly within local U.S. final facilities insured some local jobs, which was an obvious big deal for local governments. That theme has more current resonance with the discourse that came out of the recently completed U.S. Presidential election. Voters opted for the candidate they perceived to have a more aggressive protectionist stance on jobs and who would take on China as a perceived currency manipulator and in the consequent outsourcing of jobs to that country.

However, from our lens, the real question will come as the new Trump administration begins to unfold its trade protectionist policies.

Current speculation is that the incoming administration will not be shy in slapping increased tariffs on Chinese parts and components imported into the United States. Some plans call for a revised tax code that would feature a form of a value-added-tax or tariff on imported goods. If that comes to fruition, then the economics related to the existing U.S. subway equipment replacement contracts could well be impacted. The question is how much and whether local final assembly turns into something quite different, or whether new subway cars can indeed be delivered at such attractive pricing.

This is an area worthy of observation over the coming months. On the one hand, U.S. taxpayers are saving money and supposedly gaining use of very modern, technology-laden passenger railcars for urban transportation needs. They also gain some local manufacturing jobs.

On the other hand, China’s existing lower direct labor costs, overcapacity situation in steel production, and needs to insure continuous employment among state-owned manufacturers make the landed cost more attractive for local transportation agencies. It is a delicate balance that may well be subject to change, especially if the expected costs of landed components increase substantially.

Stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari

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


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

 

 


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