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Boeing Initiates Tactical and Strategic Supply Chain Moves

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Commercial aerospace and aircraft producer Boeing has recently initiated some supply chain risk mitigation and strategic sourcing moves which demonstrate responses to important business needs.

Many headlines of late report on the continuing tensions among Russia and the United States concerning ongoing events in the Ukraine. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports (paid subscription or metered view) that certain aerospace manufacturers, namely Boeing and United Technologies, have been augmenting safety stock supplies of titanium, a critical material utilized in the fabrication of critical aircraft components. One of the world’s largest producers of this material is VSMPO-Avisma, which has a parent company with direct ties to the government of Russia. VSMPO is reported as supplying upwards of 30 percent of the total volume requirements used in the aerospace industry each year. Ukraine, currently involved in political and social unrest, provides almost all of the concentrates used by VSMPO. The combination of severe economic sanctions being placed on the Russian economy and the unrest in Ukraine has logically prompted concerns about the continuity of titanium supply.

In its reporting, the WSJ cites sources as indicating that Boeing and UA have been stockpiling as much as six months of safety stock supply of highly customized titanium forgings, which are supplied by a single provider such as VSMPO.  Boeing confirmed to the WSJ the existence of the strategic reserves from its Russian supplier, with the material accounting for 15 percent of the airframe weight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. UA utilizes the subject titanium forgings to produce landing gears for Boeing and other producers, as well aircraft engine components for its Pratt & Whitney division. VSMPO further confirmed that customers had placed buffers in place as part of their risk management planning and that customers would go back to buying as needed for standard production. The WSJ further reports that Airbus has not acknowledged a safety stock strategy for titanium forgings.

Inventory management strategies are often a flash point among discussions involving supply chain planners and finance.  However, insuring continuity of strategic supply components can be a far different dialogue.  Supply Chain Matters has made note of other previous decisions made within industry supply chains to insure strategic continuity of supply when significant risk conditions are present.

South Carolina Facility Tapped

Electing to further dual source production, Boeing announced that the largest to date Dreamliner model, the 787-10 aircraft, scheduled for market delivery in 2018, will be built solely within the company’s non-union production assembly facility in North Charleston South Carolina. Statements to business and general media indicate that the sourcing decision was prompted by the stretched length of the aircraft’s fuselage.  The suppliers of this 114 foot long stretch fuselage are within Italy and Japan, and normally the fuselage components are flown in on a special fitted Boeing-owned 747 Dreamlifter cargo plane. Boeing indicates that the elongated fuselage components required for the 787-10 will not fit the existing cargo aircraft.    Boeing 787 production line

Regarding the South Carolina sourcing decision, a published report by the Seattle Times reports: “It makes clearer the profound impact of Boeing’s 2009 decision to bypass its unionized stronghold in Washington in favor of building a second 787 assembly line in nonunion South Carolina. In six years, Dreamliner final assembly will be equally divided between the East and West Coast sites.” The Times report further notes: “So by the end of the decade, the prospect for Boeing widebody-jet production is that North Charleston and Everett will each be rolling out seven Dreamliners per month, while Everett will in addition be producing up to eight 777s per month, plus two 767 tankers for the Air Force.”

Meanwhile, a labor union among Boeing’s Everett Washington production facilities were naturally not pleased with the sourcing decision, indicating that while not surprised, they were certainly disappointed in the final decision.

Reports indicate that the Everett facility will continue to sustain a production level of seven Dreamliners per month while the North Charleston facility will ramp-up from three aircraft per-month today, to five in 2016 and seven by the end of the decade. According to Boeing, both production facilities will have similar production practices and standards.

Bob Ferrari

 


Supply Chain Matters News Capsule for July 25- Zara, Pratt & Whitney, Hershey, Mars

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It’s the end of the calendar work and this commentary is our running news capsule of developments related to previous Supply Chain Matters posted commentaries or news developments.

In this capsule commentary, we include the following topics: Zara Implementing RFID Tagging System; Hershey and Other Candy Providers Raise Prices to Compensate for Higher Commodity and Production Costs; Pratt and Whitney and IBM Embark on Predictive Analytics Initiative; U.S. Government Announces New Rules Pertaining to Rail Shipments of Crude Oil

 

Zara Implementing RFID Tagging System

Reports indicate that Zara, a known icon in world class logistics and supply chain management, is implementing a microprocessor-based RFID tagging system to facilitate item-level tracking from factory to point-of-sale. This initiative was revealed at Zara’s parent company, Inditex SA, annual stockholder meeting earlier this month.

The tracking system embeds chips inside of the plastic alarms attached to various garments and supports real-time inventory tracking.  The retailer indicated that the system is already installed in 700 of its retail stores with a further rollout expected to be 500 stores per year.  That would imply that a full rollout to all 6300 Inditex controlled stores would entail a ten year rollout plan.  No financial figures have been shared regarding the cost aspects of this plan.

 

Hershey and Other Candy Providers Raise Prices to Compensate for Higher Commodity and Production Costs

One of our predictions for 2014 (available for complimentary download from Research Center above) called for stable commodity and supplier prices with certain exceptions.  One of those exceptions is turning out to be both the cost of cocoa and transportation.

Citing current and expected higher commodity, packaging, utility and transportation costs, Hershey announced last week an increase in wholesale prices by a weighted average of 8 percent, which is rather significant. That was followed by an announcement from Mars Chocolate North America this week that it will institute price hikes amounting to seven percent. A Mars statement issued to the Wall Street Journal indicated that it has been three years since the last announced price hike and that Mars have experienced a dramatic increase in the costs of doing business.

According to the WSJ, cocoa grindings, a key gauge for chocolate product demand, has surged over 5 percent across Asia and 4.5 percent in North America.

By our lens, the next move will more than likely come from Mondalez International.

For consumers, indulging in Hershey Kisses, M&M’s and Snickers will be more expensive.

 

Pratt and Whitney and IBM Embark on Predictive Analytics Initiative

Another of our 2014 predictions called for increased technology investments in predictive analytics.  One indication of that trend was an announcement indicating that aircraft engine provider Pratt & Whitney is partnering with IBM to compile and analyze data from upwards of 4000 commercial aircraft engines currently in service.  This effort is directed at developing more predictive indications of potential engine maintenance needs.  According to the announcement, each aircraft engine can generate up to a half terabyte of operational performance data per flight. According to an IBM statement: “By applying real time analytics to structured and unstructured data streams generated by aircraft engines, we can find insights and enable proactive communication and guidance to Pratt & Whitney’s services network and customers.

Previously, Accenture announced a partner effort with General Electric’s Aviation business to apply predictive analytics in areas of fuel-efficient flight paths.

 

U.S. Government Announces New Rules Pertaining to Rail Shipments of Crude Oil

As a response to heightened calls for increased safety of trains carrying crude oil across the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week a set of comprehensive new rules for the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials such as ethanol. The move follows similar efforts announced by a Canadian transportation regulatory agency.

The new rules call for enhanced tank car standards along with new operational requirements for defined high hazard flammable trains that include braking controls and speed restrictions. The new rule proposes the phase-out of the thousands of older and deemed unsafe DOT 111 tank cars within two years. Rail carriers would be required to conduct a rail routing risk assessment that considers 27 safety and security factors and trains containing one million gallons of Bakken crude oil must notify individual U.S. state entities about the operation of such trains.  Trains that haul tank cars not meeting enhanced tank car standards are restricted to 40 miles-per-hour while trains carrying enhanced tank cars would be limited to a 50 miles-per-hour speed restriction. Further under the proposed new rules, the ethanol industry will have up to 2018 to improve or replace tank cars that carry that fuel.

The proposed new rules are now open for industry and public comment over the next 60 days and are expected to go into effect early in 2015. According to various business media reports, there are upwards of 80,000 DOT-111 rail cars currently transporting crude and ethanol shipments.  When the new U.S. and Canadian rules take effect, there is likely to be a boon period for railcar producers and retro-fitters.

 


Potential West Coast Port Disruption Raises Questions on Impacts to Upcoming Peak Shipping Period

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A commentary posted on Logistics Management makes the observation that the threat U.S. West Coast port disruptions as a result of current ongoing labor union contract negotiations raises an open question as to “peak shipping season” this year. News Editor Jeff Berman makes note that inbound container shipments destined for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together account for upwards of 40 percent of incoming U.S. container traffic,  increased 16.5 percent and 8.8 percent respectively during June.  The premise presented is that buyers scrambled to move cargoes earlier to avoid the potential of goods being caught-up in a port stoppage.

Logistics Management further conducted a reader poll of 103 buyers of freight transportation and logistics services. That survey indicated 68.1 percent of respondents expecting a more active peak shipping season this year. Some respondents are reported to be concerned about potential transportation lane disruptions in the fall.

Meanwhile, as we approach the end of one month since contract expiration, no real news has come forward regarding the ongoing labor talks between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore Warehouse Union. That provides continued uncertainty and concern among industry supply chains.

Supply Chain Matters proposes to conduct its own reader poll. For those readers managing inventory, procurement, transportation and logistics services, here’s the question:

What are your organization’s current plans or strategies regarding a potential disruption or work stoppage among U.S. West Coast plants? 

Provide your responses in our interactive poll at the bottom of our right-hand panel. We will open this poll for two weeks and will announce the final results.

Bob Ferrari


Once Again Another Apple New Product Ramp-up of the iPhone Supply Chain

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On the eve of Apple’s report of quarterly earnings, its supply chain is leaking all sorts of information regarding the upcoming new production ramp-up of Apple’s new iPhone models in preparation for all important the holiday buying surge period that comes later this year.

Our Supply Chain Matters information alerts regarding Apple have been active for the past five weeks but the trigger point arrived today when the Wall Street Journal featured a front-page article regarding ongoing production plans.

According to the WSJ, Apple’s supply chain planners have placed orders for between 70 million and 80 million iPhones in both 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch screen configurations to be completed by the end of this calendar year. That compares to production orders of between 50-60 million phones for the same period last year as Apple ramped-up for the introduction of the iPhone5 model series. That is an obvious indication that Apple is making big-bets on the expected popularity of the new iPhone models. Apple also does not want to encounter a situation of being short on inventory for the most popular iPhone 5s model, as was the case during last year’s holiday season.

The WSJ report generally correlates with reports from Taiwan media several weeks ago. Where the reports differ is when volume production is scheduled to start.  Media outlets in Taiwan reported that the 4.7 inch model would begin volume production this month, while the 5.5 inch would begin production in mid-August.  Today’s WSJ report indicates the larger screen version production would begin in September. Previous Taiwan and Chinese reports indicated that contract manufacturer Foxconn was in the process of hiring an additional 100,000 workers to accommodate the cyclical production increase while secondary contract manufacturer Pegatron was in the process of hiring an incremental 10,000 workers. All of this data provides a sense of the sheer scale and flexibility that Apple requires from its supply chain partners.

What is remarkable is that a reading of today’s report gives a true sense of the complexity and variability challenges that Apple’s supply chain planners must manage.  The new larger screen is again, as in prior years, presenting production ramp-up and yield challenges due to more advanced in-call technology and a rumored sapphire based screen. The WSJ report indicates that orders for upwards of 120 million displays have been placed to compensate for yield challenges. If that number is accurate, it would imply that planners are factoring a 60 percent yield factor. The report further validates that Apple planners will make production adjustments based on early demand history, which was again demonstrated last year when production volumes for the iPhone 5c were scaled-back based on initial demand from consumers. Last month, China Times reported that global semiconductor chip producer TSMC was expected to produce 120 million touch ID fingerprint sensors for Apple, which is three times the volume produced last year, and a further indication of production yield factors and ramp-up scale.

Then there is the celebration of the Lunar New Year, which next year, arrives in February, when most production grinds to a halt as workers take time to return to their families. Apple planners must insure that adequate inventories remain to compensate for a lull in production, or that contract manufacturers make assurances that some production will continue during the period of the Lunar New Year celebration. Multi-tiered inventory visibility is an obvious necessity.

As was the case last year, Apple’s upcoming new product launches will place its supply chain with even more challenges. The competitive stakes for Apple are far higher this year as market dynamics and overall competition in emerging markets intensifies. Rival Samsung has already felt the effects of intensified competition from lower-price producers Lenovo and Xiaomi in China and Micromax and Karbonn in India. 

Pricing strategy will be critical and some reports indicate that Apple is seeking higher list prices from carriers for its upcoming new models.  The government of China recently raised media-wide concerns regarding the overall security of Apple smartphones in the midst of ongoing global spying scandals, which could place additional pressures on China Mobile to feature other brands. Android powered phones continue to gain more overall market share while Microsoft and other tech players are providing more incentives for lower-cost providers to adopt Windows based phones.

These are all variables that will drive Apple’s supply chain planning in the coming weeks, one that will again have to demonstrate responsiveness to increased market dynamics, synchronization of NPI and ramp-up plans and resiliency to unplanned disruptions or material shortages.

Then again, Apple continues to be rated by Gartner as the number one supply chain.

Bob Ferrari


Wal-Mart’s Efforts to Strategically Refocus its Business Models Surface in Business Media

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Among consumer goods and services focused supply chains, Wal-Mart clearly warrants special attention. The global based retailer continues to provide clout and sheer scale of operations that any producer, manufacturer, direct competitor or supply chain cannot ignore.   Wal Mart

This week, and for the first time ever, this retailer is hosting more than 500 manufacturers to spur more “Made in the USA” products that can be offered across Wal-Mart’s outlets.  The retailer has committed upwards of $250 billion over the next ten years to support more domestic sourcing of products, and is one of very few companies with the clout and influence to make something happen in this area.  Supply Chain Matters has previously complimented Wal-Mart on this initiative and we trust others will as-well. More on this topic in a later commentary.

Business media and indeed Supply Chain Matters have also called attention to troubling signs involving lagging sales growth in the U.S. along with other more visible issues. The retailer recently reported its fifth straight quarter of negative U.S. sales and reduced traffic.

For an in-depth perspective on what is really occurring behind the scenes, along with a renewed sense of urgency, we call reader attention to this week’s Wall Street Journal front-page article: Wal-Mart Looks to Grow By Getting Smaller. (paid subscription required)  

This article specifically profiles the retailer’s new CEO, Doug McMillon, described as a “Wal-Mart lifer” and his uncharacteristically new efforts directed at altering prior Wal-Mart business models in favor of more innovative approaches. In essence, the WSJ concludes that McMillon is looking beyond a traditional short-term focus in a concerted two-fold effort to bring the retailer into the next century of retailing.  These efforts have considerable supply chain and B2B business network implications in the months and years to come.

Described is a new sense of urgency instilled across the entire executive leadership team which includes increased piloting of new ideas. “For the first time in its history, Wal-Mart will open more smaller grocery and convenience-type stores than supercenters.” The WSJ cites internal sources as indicating that the retailer is evaluating plans to open free-standing liquor stores and adding more gasoline service stations in certain states. A test store near Denver allows shoppers to order groceries online and pick-up that order in a drive-thru. The notion of “everyday low prices” is giving way to “dynamic pricing” based on competitive market data.

In its latest fiscal year, the retailer plowed $500 million into its new online E-commerce business, including the addition of three new online fulfillment centers, and has plans to invest an additional $150 million in the current fiscal year. Last year, the retailer was cited as having the highest online sales growth, 30 percent compared to Amazon’s 20 percent gain. Wal-Mart now has upwards of $10 billion of total revenues coming from its online channels.

McMillon’s focus further remains on day-to-day operations of stores including smarter merchandising and in-stock inventory management along with cleaner stores.  The article notes that at a recent annual meeting of store managers, an executive admonished store managers to take more active ownership of stores and clean-up their operations.  If you have, as this author has, visited a Wal-Mart store of-late, you may have observed that stores are more disheveled with associates that exhibit a lack of caring about shoppers needs. Wal-Mart also has to come to grip with its ongoing labor management practices.  The WSJ makes note that earlier in the year, the National Labor Relations Board accused the retailer of unlawful retaliation against workers who took part in protests over working conditions.

Our community can well relate to the fact that keeping shelves adequately stocked was the primary emphasis of Wal-Mart’s prior RFID item-tracking initiatives, which yielded minimal impact and continual resets.

Whether Wal-Mart will succeed in all tenets of its current two-fold business strategy is certainly fodder for added speculation and water cooler debate. However, the continued clout and influence of the retailer on the ultimate success of supply chain and demand fulfillment initiatives is unmistakable, and thus, cannot be ignored. As a participant in Wal-Mart’s supply chain, your organization will again be tasked with many short and longer-term initiatives in support of these parallel efforts.

Keep in mind what is going on behind the scenes as a giant retailer attempts to change its culture and business models to meet the realities of the new era of retailing and customer fulfillment.

Bob Ferrari

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


A Flood of Rumors Surround Apple’s Pending Product Launches with High Expectations

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Wall Street insiders and the financial press are hard at work extracting tidbits of information from elements of Apple’s supply chain. The buzz and interest centers squarely on what can be anticipated for Apple’s Fall new product introduction (NPI) pipeline. Obviously there is a lot at-stake.

We at Supply Chain Matters have featured prior commentaries related to information leaks from the Apple supply chain ecosystem. But we put that aside in this commentary. Rather, let’s focus on Apple’s new product ramp-up, overall planning and supplier management strategies that are evolving in this current phase.

The current two areas of focus are on the rumored introduction of Apple’s next iteration of the iPhone along with the so termed, iWatch, a smartwatch that is rumored to have rather mind blowing functionality and characteristics.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published an article, Can Apple Crack the Smartphone Code? (paid subscription required) The article indicates that Apple will join other consumer electronics firms, namely Samsung, Sony, Intel and a host of start-ups who have already released versions of a smartwatch into the market. We recently called Supply Chain Matters reader attention to reports that Google was ramping-up volume production for  a smartwatch product as well. According to the WSJ article authors, thus far the market has been lukewarm in sales volumes. Thus, Apple does not have its usual first-mover advantage, and is compelled to provide more attractive product innovation to differentiate from existing competitors. The publication cites one market research firm as indicating that shipments of so-termed wearable devices amounted to roughly 3 million units in the first quarter of 2014, not a lot in the context of previous Apple product releases.

Regarding supply chain related insights, the WSJ cites a source indicating that Apple’s past ability to integrate both hardware and software design concurrently give it a leg-up in the market. Another source from a component supplier is quoted as indicating that Apple is planning for 2014 shipments ranging from 10-15 million production units this year.

A separate published report by Reuters , citing a source familiar with the matter, indicates Taiwan’s Quanta Computer will begin mass smartwatch production in July, with the planned product launch coming as early as October. Thus, we can surmise that in 3 months, Apple is planning to ship three to four times the market volumes that occurred in Q1.  That’s Apple’s big bet on more attractive production innovation. The cited source further indicates that Apple expects to ship 50 million units within the first year of the product’s release, although these types of initial estimates can be subject to change or later adjustment. Further noted is that LG Display Co is the exclusive supplier of the screen for the gadget’s initial batch of production. LG Display has become Apple’s preferred go-to supplier for next generation display technology, that which requires difficult challenges in overcoming initial production yields. Two other sources of Reuters indicated that the subject smartwatch is rumored to also contain a sensor that monitors the user’s pulse. Singapore-based imaging and sensor maker Heptagon is cited as being on the supplier list for that feature, a rather new player in the Apple ecosystem.

Now let’s turn attention to the rumored new iPhone6.

A published advisory on Seeking Alpha cites Taiwan’s Economic Daily News report indicating that global contract manufacturer Foxconn is being tapped to be the prime contract manufacturer and is in the midst of hiring 100,000 workers to help ramp up iPhone 6 production. Fellow ODMPegatron is also said to be ramping iPhone-related hiring. Further noted is the rumor that Apple is targeting a price hike for carriers regarding the new phone model, which perhaps implies a bigger margin. Yesterday, a published report from Bloomberg indicates that production for the new model iPhone will begin in July and include two different models. One model will have a 4.7-inch display, compared to the 4-inch screen of the current iPhone 5s and may be available to ship to retailers around September. A 5.5-inch version is also being prepared for manufacturing and may be available at the same time according to the Bloomberg sources. The new iPhones will also be rounder and thinner than previous models, and include curved glass. Production of the 5.5-inch model is more complicated than the smaller version, resulting in lower production efficiency that must be overcome before manufacturing volume can be increased.

That news concerning Foxconn is incredibly interesting because the CMS was previously transitioning away from Apple’s volume business. Foxconn actually declared in February 2013 that it would freeze all hiring in China.  Supply Chain Matters featured a past commentary related to Foxconn’s annual meeting of shareholders that communicated that having Apple as one of your prime customers is probably both a blessing and a curse, because the Apple way requires maximum flexibility with a magnification of the principle that the customer is always right, even when that customer abuses planning norms. In that stockholder event just about one year ago, Foxconn management indicated the intent to lighten its high exposure to Apple related production contracts in favor of both moving downstream in the consumer electronics supply chain and developing its own line of devices and software. At the time we opined that we would not be at all surprised that one day, there will be a number of consumer electronics devices branded by Foxconn, probably in the China market.  If the rumors that Foxconn will be the prime manufacturer for the upcoming iPhone 6 turn out to be accurate, that would place a new or different perspective, namely that Apple is leaning on its most trusted and experienced contract manufacturer to insure that innovative design can meet high volume production requirements in a more-timely manner.

Apple is obviously deep into two major new production introduction ramp-ups with entirely new product designs, over the next several months. Notice that the windows are shorter, production start in July with possible global product launches in September or October. Usually, these NPI ramp-up phases start earlier in the year, perhaps May or June.

A brand new product area, namely a wearable device, far different iPhone design functionality (bendable glass, touch fingerprint sensor, wireless charging to name but a few rumors) blended among dynamic connections among product design, management and contract manufacturing partners. No doubt, this is an intense effort, with high stakes.  Apple’s information connections from product management to the manufacturing shop floor, its inventory positioning and overall S&OP coordination are all dynamically at-play.  We would not be all that surprised to hear that product designers are still making changes.  That is the Apple way.

Yet, if any supply chain is up to the task, it certainly will be that of Apple.

We all await the results that come over the coming months.

Bob Ferrari

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


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