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Airbus and Boeing Continue to Experience Supply Chain Scale-Up Challenges

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Supply Chain Matters has previously noted signs that commercial aircraft supply chains supporting both Airbus and Boeing may indeed be faltering in their ability to scale-up current and future production volume output commitment milestones.  The first clear sign came in February when Boeing transmitted a supply chain shock wave by warning that total 2016 production output and deliveries would be lower than that of 2015.

Last week, both commercial aircraft global producers announced their Q1 financial performance which included ongoing challenges related to supply chain challenges and expected performance for 2016 total delivery commitments.

Airbus CEO declared that 2016 has turned out to be the challenging year that was anticipated. Aircraft deliveries, cash and earnings were noted as heavily loaded towards the end of the year. While total revenues matched year-ago levels, net income and free cash flow were considerably below Q1 year ago levels. Further noted in the context of supply chain:

“The A350XWB ramp-up is progressing with the focus on bottlenecks in the supply chain, reducing outstanding work and controlling recurring costs. This is increasingly challenging. The target for a monthly production rate of 10 A350s by the end of 2018 remains unchanged. Five A320neos were delivered in the first quarter to two customers. Pratt and Whitney is committed to supplying new engines for aircraft delivery from the summer of 2016. The engines are expected to be delivered at the right level of maturity to enable the NEO (new engine option) ramp-up in the second-half of 2016. Overall, the A320 ramp-up preparation continues despite temporary supply chain challenges that are expected to be recovered at year-end.”

From or lens, such candid detail from a CEO related to the global producer’s most critical new product introductions is a clear sign of concerns related to various supply chain challenges.

In May of 2015, we noted that Airbus conducted an operational review of its crucial A320 supply chain amid a backlog of 5100 booked customer orders, many of which were for the new engine option version. In February of 2015, the company indicated that it had plans to increase the monthly production rate to 50 aircraft per month by early 2017, while evaluating an even larger cadence amid existing production of 42 A320 aircraft per month at the time.

In December of 2015, Airbus had to delay the initial A320neo delivery fulfilment milestone. Airline customer Lufthansa stepped-up at the last minute to serve as first delivery customer after former designated launch customer Qatar Airways refused to take first initial delivery because of last-minute operating limitations of Pratt’s new geared turbofan, PW1100G Pure Power aircraft engine.  Lufthansa did take delivery of the first A320neo aircraft in January, but without any ceremony, fanfare or appearance of the “neo” decal on the aircraft. The explanation for the delay provided by Lufthansa was added technical acceptance and documentation needs required from engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney as well as Airbus.  Subsequent industry reports pointed to an engine cooling recycle issue for the engine when operated in dry high heat desert climate operational conditions.

Reporting on last week’s Q1 financial performance from United Technologies, the parent of Pratt, The Wall Street Journal provided somewhat more detail related to the new geared turbofan engine. Reported was that Pratt was changing its production process to eliminate a cooling issue with the engine when operating in high heat climates between flight cycles.  That correlated with the reports in January regarding performance and certification needs related to the new engine. The production change is expected to be completed by June.

Regarding the A350XWB, there were previous reports of supply challenges related to the aircraft’s seats and interior cabin features among other supply issues.

In Q1, Airbus delivered 125 aircraft to 49 customers. Deliveries included:

103     A320 aircraft including five A320neo models

13      A330 aircraft

4        A350 XWB aircraft

5        A380 aircraft

As of the end of March 2016, commercial aircraft order backlog was reported as 6716 aircraft orders, of which, nearly 81 percent consisted of the single aisle A320 family of aircraft. That equates to over 13 years of production at current quarterly output levels.

Boeing’s Q1 Performance

Boeing reported higher revenues but lower profits for its Q1 financial reporting. Total revenue increased 2 percent from the year-earlier period while core operating earnings decreased 21 percent, missing analyst’s profit expectations for the first time since 2011. Boeing incurred an additional $243 million pre-tax charge related to a new U.S. Air Force tanker development program that has been plagued by product design and subsequent production delays.

The Commercial Airplanes business segment reported that revenues decreased to $14.4 billion, a six percent decrease from the year-earlier period primarily from lower delivery performance.

Boeing executives have increasingly pointed to operational cost challenges brought about by a more competitive industry new aircraft pricing environment. In addition to reduced deliveries, Boeing had recently announced specific job cuts and cost reduction efforts involving cuts of more than 4500 positions by June. Boeing had indicated that the commercial aircraft business segment expected to initiate about 2400 of these cuts via attrition and approximately 1600 through voluntary layoffs. The cuts included “hundreds” of managers and executives which would indicate a trimming of organizational hierarchy. Boeing continues to maintain pressure on current suppliers for cost cuts and productivity increases. Yet, During Q1, Boeing purchased an additional $3.5 billion of the company’s outstanding shares leaving $10.5 billion remaining under the current repurchase authorization to be completed over the next two years. Boeing has additionally taken steps to leverage more revenue from service parts revenues involving proprietary part designs taking away some revenue opportunities from major suppliers.

In Q1, the latest quarter, Boeing delivered 176 commercial aircraft that consisted of:

121     737 aircraft

23      777 aircraft

30      787 aircraft

1        747 aircraft

1        767 aircraft

Order backlog remains described as robust at $480 billion with over 5,700 commercial airplane orders. At current Q1 product volume that backlog equates to a little over 8 years of customer order backlog.

Thus, for the two dominant manufacturers of commercial aircraft, supply chain challenges have once again come back as concerns amid an environment of robust order backlogs. Each has different manifestations and supplier challenges, and each reflects on internal operational scale-up as well. More and more, challenging product design among the most critical supply components, including aircraft engines will continue to be the linchpin towards achieving required production scale-up milestones.

Bob Ferrari

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

 


Apple- A Huge Thud Within Silicon Valley and Equity Markets

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This week marked a rather significant milestone and a rather huge thump within Silicon Valley and global equity markets.  The globe’s richest and most profitable company along with the most highly recognized supply chain delivered a huge if not somewhat expected disappointment. Note your calendars for reference, as this week; Apple did indeed report the company’s first quarterly sales drop in 13 years.

The growth streak has temporarily paused and the question is now what comes next.

The financial numbers are somewhat ugly by Apple standards- second fiscal quarter revenues declined 13 percent while profitability fell over 22 percent.  Then again, how many companies would envy a quarter that resulted in over $50 billion in sales and over 10 billion in net income?

Revenues across global regions were consistently down- a 10 percent reduction for Americas; a 5 percent reduction in Europe; a 26 percent reduction in the all-important Greater China region. Once more, Apple has issued lower sales forecasts for the current quarter. The impact of a strong U.S. dollar was somewhat a factor in global revenues with Apple indicating that revenue declines would have narrowed by 4 percentage points without such an impact.

For the past year, Apple’s shares have declined 20 percent and according to a commentary by The Wall Street Journal: “The decline erased more than $46 billion of the company’s market capitalization, more than the total value of Caterpillar Inc. or Netflix Inc.”

The unit volume picture was concerning- All important iPhone sales volume was reported as 51.2 million, down 16 percent from year earlier period. The firm’s iPad sales volumes declined 19 percent, continuing in a two-year long sales slump despite efforts to boost sales and a strategic alliance with IBM for more iPad focused business applications. Supply Chain Matters highlighted a number of ongoing published reports emanating from supplier information leaks indicating that Apple’s S&OP team has been consistently reducing iPhone production volumes since the beginning of the year. While inventories did increase, the situation would have likely been a lot worse since Apple had plans at one time to support an 80 million iPhone sales rate. Apple CEO Tim Cook indicated that the company plans to reduce inventories by $2 billion because of what he describes as the current challenging global economy. Gross margin for the current quarter is forecasted to be in a range of 37.5 to 38 percent, again below margin rates in the 40 percent range in prior years.

One bright spot was the introduction of the lower cost Apple iPhone SE that started shipping at the end of March. Apple CEO Tim Cook described current demand for this model as exceeding current supply, but too late to make any difference in second quarter performance.

The obvious question that reverberates across financial networks is when Apple, if ever will, return to growth.  Some would point to the need for an acquisition, some point to the need for the next “cool” product, perhaps electric cars or televisions.

Within the supply chain umbrella, one can anticipate a number of ongoing challenges.

Apple’s product design and product management teams are now under enormous pressure to develop the next successful groundbreaking product. The all-important design completion milestone date is mid-summer, since the global supply chain needs time to build supply and production to meet the traditional September new product announcement period and the critical October-December holiday sales period. Apple’s product design culture has always shown a tendency to push design changes to the very last minute.

Another reality is how long Apple can continue to support a premium price and margin point given an overall slump in global smartphone sales.  Emerging consumer regions where sales growth continues to exist are battlegrounds for price vs. performance, with lower price winning the majority of the time. If the iPhone SE turns out to be a sales volume success, it will have to be supported by a lower-cost supply chain channel.

Apple’s global direct materials procurement teams must continue to practice active supplier management since many of Apple’s suppliers have pinned their own financial performance outcomes on the large output volumes expected from Apple. When Apple sneezes, suppliers tend to catch pneumonia. Challenges will manifest themselves at annual supply contract reviews when volume expectations are clarified. With Apple practicing active segmentation, dual sourcing and key commodity risk mitigation, the role of supplier sourcing management should be very active.

Finally, Apple S&OP team must continue to be the arbitrator between sales and marketing teams who live in a hyped atmosphere of ever optimistic sales growth, a financial community now razor focused on margins and profitability goals, and supply chain operational teams that has not previously found themselves under an overt cost control looking glass.

A final open question is what if Apple elects to execute a large or complex acquisition. Perhaps an existing electric car or up and coming consumer electronics company?

There’s been an evitable thud in Cupertino, and the coming months will indicate whether this is indeed a temporary setback, or another turnaround milestone for the legacy and history of Apple.

Stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari

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


New Development in Sports Authority Bankruptcy Reorganization Effort

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Yesterday, there was a significant development related to the bankruptcy proceedings involving sporting goods retailer Sports Authority, one with continued supplier collaboration and management implications for the broader retail and consumer goods industry sectors.

In early March, Supply Chain Matters called attention a report that retailer Sports Authority has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection which included an intent to close or sell 140 stores and two existing distribution centers.  Characterized as one of the largest sporting-goods retailers, the chain found itself weighted down with debt from a prior leveraged buyout a decade ago. According to media reports, there was $1.1 billion in debt that included $717 million in bank loans and over $200 million in trade debt owed to suppliers. Lenders have given the retailer up to the end of April to find a buyer or another investor, or close any remaining stores.

A subsequent disturbing twist to this bankruptcy proceeding involved the categorization of existing consignment inventory.  Attorneys for the retail chain filed lawsuits with more than 160 existing suppliers challenging claims to consigned inventories. According to reports, upwards of $85 million in shoes and other gear that were currently on the shelves in retail stores were at-stake. The supplier lawsuits were apparently a means to challenge who gets the bulk of compensation when consigned goods are sold in store closings or in discounted sales. Our Supply Chain Matters view was that the move on consignment inventory had significant ramifications for supplier collaboration practices within retail as well as other consumer goods focused supply chains.

Today, business reports indicate that this week, Sports Authority has abandoned its reorganization plan and instead will count on any potential buyers to salvage parts of the retail chain. A report in today’s editions of The Wall Street Journal indicated that the chain’s lawyers indicated to a bankruptcy judge that the existing debtors will not support reorganization and are instead enforcing an outright sale. A May 16 auction date has apparently been set for the bulk of the retail chain’s operations and facilities.  According to today’s WSJ report, there are no guarantees that any of existing stores will stay in operation.

What caught our attention was the following sentence:

The financing fight is also the arena for claims from some vendors that they, rather than lenders, have the right to collect the proceeds when goods are sold”

That obviously is a reference to attempt to seize proceeds from vendor consignment inventories. One could speculate that existing suppliers elected to play hardball, given what was on the table, and given that some other sporting goods retailers are financially struggling as-well. From our lens, it was indeed protecting the integrity of consignment inventory contracts.

Reports indicate that talks remain ongoing, and although a planned reorganization is off the table, a subsequent liquidation plan will have to address how any existing debt will be paid-up.

Our takeaway from this week’s Sports Authority development is a caution to other retailers to not mess with existing key suppliers who have extended a hand to help finance inventory investments. We continue to wonder aloud whether the Sports Authority developments, regardless of final outcome, provide a longer-term setback in joint inventory management practices.

Bob Ferrari

 

 


Major Move by Boeing to Secure Service Parts Revenue Control

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Equipment and capital goods manufacturers have increasingly re-discovered new and growing revenue opportunities that reside in added services and service parts sectors related to in-service equipment. Such opportunities are especially pertinent across commercial or defense focused aircraft which have operational service that spans many years of service. However, when an industry dominant such as Boeing decides that it wants to take more control as well as revenue cut of all service parts, the financial implications and subsequent impacts will reverberate among all key suppliers.

Today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal reports such an implication as Boeing elects to secure a new source of revenue beyond building aircraft. (Paid subscription required) The report indicates that whereas in the past, Boeing’s largest suppliers such as Spirit AeroSystems or Rockwell Collins could sell respective manufactured parts directly to airline and aircraft operators for in-service service replacement needs, the OEM elected in late February to prohibit suppliers from directly selling proprietary service parts, along with suspending licenses to suppliers to sell any such proprietary parts to its customers. The WSJ characterizes this development:

It is the most aggressive move to-date in Boeing’s year-long effort to assert control over distribution-and the resulting revenue- of parts.”

According to the report, Boeing is looking to nearly triple revenues associated with commercial and defense aviation parts and services business by 2025.

Supply chain teams in these sectors know all too well that margins on service parts can far exceed those for original equipment production needs. According to the WSJ, it can be upwards of 4X more than what Boeing pays for the part to support initial production. Suppliers will often forego margins on supply contracts to a customer such as Boeing with the expectation that multi-year margins can be garnered in service parts needs over the operating life of an aircraft model.

In a highly regulated industry such as commercial or defense focused aircraft, certain structural or key operating parts have designated service-life provisions which must be adhered to, thus assuring ongoing component stocking and service part demand needs.

The WSJ report further links these moves to Boeing’s ongoing Partnering for Success initiative addressing added cost control opportunities among existing suppliers. According to the report:

Boeing also prohibited some suppliers from being given new work or withheld regulatory approvals for parts until revised (supply) contracts were complete.

The report cites a Credit Suisse aerospace industry analyst as indicating:

The economics of being a Boeing supplier could be facing their greatest challenge yet.”

While airlines themselves have become increasingly concerned by the rising prices of service parts charged by suppliers, by our Supply Chain Matters lens, this revised strategy by Boeing does not necessarily address nor mitigate that trend. It obviously takes away profitability opportunities for suppliers while adding yet another intermediary in the service parts supply chain.

One of the most promising service management opportunities related to commercial and defense focused aircraft resides in the leveraging of Internet of Things (IoT) focused technologies that would allow operating equipment the ability to communicate service and replacement needs based on operating environmental conditions. Rather that static, fixed maintenance schedules, the opportunity is for the equipment itself to self-diagnose its parts replacement needs.

Many original equipment manufacturers are thus positioning to take advantage of such technologies in new service focused business models.  That includes aircraft engine producers such as General Electric and CFM International. With this latest move by Boeing, a new participant is added to the overall business model, a participant that must share the same technology tenets being promoted in automated performance monitoring and service dispatch. Add the notion of IoT platform providers positing for their portion of the overall business model via platform adoption and subsequent dominance, and the picture begins to turn to one we have witnessed before with breakthrough technology.  Every participant attempting to position for leveraged control of a promising new business model while target customers have to determine what all of this implies for added efficiencies or cost savings.

The dilemma of commercial aircraft supply chains that presented multi-year order backlogs and insatiable demand for more fuel-efficient technology-laden new aircraft has met the reality of more educated and aggressive airline customers, coupled with rapidly changing economic times.  These forces are inserting their influence on aircraft pricing, delivery expectations and operating service needs.

Boeing is now responding to these needs by aggressive supply chain cost and headcount reductions, and now, demanding its proportional cut of service parts revenues. In essence, like too many supply chain dominants, the picture is again moving the need of cost reduction or added revenue needs down the supply chain.

More and more, the notion of we are all in this to share industry growth opportunities together reverts back to the supply chain dominant as the ultimate long-term benefactor.

Respective suppliers will obviously have to determine their own response strategies. Larger suppliers will be able to find means to remain resilient to such changes while smaller suppliers may feel the bulk of the pain. In the long-run, the party that ultimately controls the customer relationship along with product and process design ends up to be the eventual winner.

Bob Ferrari


Yet Another Shipping Alliance and an Industry Stalling the Inescapable

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The Wall Street Journal reports (Paid subscription required) that a new ocean container shipping alliance is being formed.

This alliance would include China’s Cosco Group, Hong Kong’s Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL); Taipei based Evergreen Marine and France’s CMA CGM. This new grouping, to be termed the Ocean Alliance, will operate nearly 350 vessels across various global routes, and by CMA CGM estimates, could account for 26 percent market share in Asia-Europe routings.

The Ocean Alliance is being put forward to rival the market dominance of Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co., (MSC) which formed the 2M Alliance in 2014 that reportedly now controls roughly 34 percent of the Asia to Europe trade route.  Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM had previously proposed the termed P3 Network which was eventually scuttled by Chinese regulators in 2014. CMA CGM and Cosco currently operate in the Ocean Three alliance the reportedly controls 22 percent of cargo moving on the Asia and Europe trade route.

This newly proposed alliance is also subject to regulatory approval from the European Union, China and the United States under the supposed guidelines that any alliance does not benefit from domination of an individual trade route.

In its report, the WSJ indicates that operators have already met in recent days with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) as well as the other regulators. However, a quote from the commissioner at the FMC indicates that existing alliances seen today will change significantly. That could well be an indication of continued industry turbulence and ongoing changes.

Now at this point, readers may well be confused by all of these alliance names and arrangements. That should not be a surprise since this is all about compensating for gross industry wide over-capacity in vessels and positioning for pricing control over major trade routes. The fact that maritime regulators would continue to agree to such alliances is yet another concern since shipper’s interests are not necessarily the prime motivation for such actions.

In February, the WSJ noted that that the industry, in-essence, had three options, either shrink, merge or continue to ride out one the worst downturns in decades. Some consultants recommend consolidation though a combination or merges and alliances, but the question comes down to overall timing.

According to Drewry Shipping Consultants, utilization of ships across the world’s busiest shipping routes fell to 87 percent in 2015, down from 93 percent in 2014. Rates charged on the Asia-Europe routes fell by 42 percent in 2015.  In March, Drewry noted that an index of spot rates on 11 trade routes between Asia, Europe and the United States had fallen 62 percent. According to a Globe and Mail report published in early March, the oversupply of massive new container ships serving the China-Europe route had pushed smaller vessels to Atlantic Ocean routes, consequently depressing rates between North America and Europe.

Obviously, shippers who now rely primarily on spot rates are experiencing the benefits the current industry bloodbath, while those who opted for longer-term contracts more than likely question their decision. The ongoing dynamics for so long since industry changes are about to get even more messy.

This week, a posting on Supply Chain Brain poses a very timely question: Are Carriers Changing Their Minds on Megaships? That commentary reinforces what we at Supply Chain Matters have noted for months, namely that shipping lines chose to ignore the consequent implications of introducing far larger mega-ships.

Besides exacerbating a condition of overcapacity, the impacts on various global ports in terms of truck chassis scheduling, added crane and rail and truck throughput capacity, and impacts to existing trade union contracts were literally thrown over the wall for others to figure out. Industry supply chains felt the pain of the initial effects in the fall of 2015 with four months of disruption across U.S. West Coast ports.

The Supply Chain Brain posting cites a Drewry director as indicating at a recent industry conference that the estimated current excess capacity is near 2 million TEU’s (trailer equivalents units) and that an estimated 5 percent of ocean container vessels, nearly 1 million TEU’s sits idle generating zero revenues.

Any way you elect to look at it, the ocean container transportation segment has serious problems that by one means or another will have to find resolution. The open question remains, how-long will the process continue?

Shippers who are currently benefitting from the fallout of depressed rates, but paying the price in slower service and unreliable scheduling, should not be lulled into a perspective of sticking one’s head in the sand, and assuming such conditions will eventually work themselves out. When the dam eventually breaks, there is a lot of water that will flow out.

The time is long overdue for industry shippers, logistics providers, transportation brokers, shipbuilders and indeed global regulators to have their collective voices heard. The ongoing ocean container industry crisis needs solutions with both customer and global supply chain interests in mind. This litany of alliance formation prolongs the solving of an obvious and inescapable problem.

Bob Ferrari

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


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