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Where is Apple’s Commitment to U.S. Manufacturing?

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Our previous Supply Chain Matters commentary noted that Apple is in the process of marshalling its vast supply chain scale in ramping-up for the pending introduction of new iPhone and other products while stoking consumer demand for the upcoming holiday buying surge. Upwards of 110,000 or considerably more additional workers are being marshalled to support production ramp-up while suppliers themselves reap the benefits of orders exceeding 100 million units.

In December 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook conducted a series of orchestrated media interviews that included an announcement that Apple planned to invest upwards of $100 million to build Mac computers in the U.S. Our Supply Chain matters commentary at that time reflected on one interview conducted by NBC News anchor Brain Williams. Below is an excerpt of that commentary:

There were statements by Cook that, in our view, were somewhat on the mark and deserve amplification.  Brian Williams asked in the Rock Center interview- What would be the financial impact to the product if, for example, the production of iPhones were shifted to the U.S.?  Cook’s response was that rather than a price impact, the real issues reflect a skills challenge.  Skills were identified as the existence of talented manufacturing process engineers, as well as experienced manufacturing workers.  Cook pointed to deficiencies in the U.S. educational system, as well as the ongoing challenge of recruiting skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S.  Great answer!  But perhaps, there is much more unstated.  High tech and consumer electronics firms long ago shifted the core of consumer electronics supply chains to Asia. Foxconn alone represents a production workforce of over a million people, not to mention many more of that number spread across Apple’s Asian based suppliers. Add many other consumer electronics companies and the arguments of existing capabilities in people, process, component product innovation and supply chain across Asia remain compelling.

We recall that commentary in light of yet another major ramp-up of Asia based consumer electronics supply chain providers.  Yet, the open question remains, where or what is the status of Apple’s planned $100 million investment in the U.S. let alone a more far reaching commitment toward renewing a U.S. based consumer electronics component supply chain ?

A posting in All Things Digital in May of 2013 indicated that according to testimony from CEO Tim Cook before a Congressional Subcommittee the Mac facility would be located in Austin Texas and rely on components made in Florida and Illinois and equipment produced in Kentucky and Michigan. Soon after, Apple contract manufacturing partner Foxconn announced that it was looking to source more manufacturing in the U.S.

In June of this year, PC World made note that Cook tweeted a photo of his visit to the Austin Texas facility where Macs are being produced. The snafu was the iMac in the background was running Microsoft Windows.

The problem however is that a Google search to find updated information related to Apple’s investment in U.S. supply chain capability yields scant information.  We certainly urge our readers with knowledge of Apple’s U.S. production and supply chain investment efforts to chime in, if they are allowed.

Compare that with the efforts being generated by Wal-Mart in its Made in the U.S.A. initiative, committing upwards of $250 over the next ten years on U.S. produced goods. During the Winter Olympics, Wal-Mart produced a super slick video, I am A Factory, that garnered over a million You Tube views. That has been followed by summit meetings held with would-be suppliers in multiple product categories to encourage U.S. investment and provide assistance in sourcing or skills development training. Wal-Mart is even willing to make multiple year buying commitments to prospective manufacturers to help them invest in U.S. based supply chain resources. Last week, the Wall Street Journal profiled Element Electronics which is currently assembling televisions in a production facility in South Carolina under the Wal-Mart program. Noted is that the Element production line is an exact duplicate of one that exists in China, installed by Chinese engineers. While Element management admits that there are challenges in the sourcing of a U.S. component supply chain, and in required worker skills, it is making efforts to correct that situation over time under the support of Wal-Mart’s longer term buying commitment.

The point is this.  There is no question that Apple has the financial resources and the public relations savvy to make a U.S. production and supply chain sourcing effort far more meaningful, impactful and visible.  Yet one has to dig real deep to find information let alone acquire any sense of active commitment. Instead, business headlines note massive scale-up and flexibility of Asia based resources as being far more important to Apple’s business goals. Yet Apple has no problem in demanding a premium price for its products from U.S. consumers. We will avoid diving into the debate regarding Apple’s offshore cash strategy.

Supply Chain Matters therefore challenges the top rated supply chain to join Wal-Mart and others in a far more active and impactful multi-year commitment to U.S. manufacturing which includes higher volume products and education of required worker skills.

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


Boeing Shares Current Reliability Performance of 787 Dreamliners

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In our previous published commentary, we reflected on the recently held Farnborough Air Show and the new order activity generated for aerospace industry supply chains by this trade show.  Boeing 787-9

One other report from this trade show caught our attention. Boeing indicated that the reliability to-date of the more than 160 787 Dreamliners that are operating among global carriers is averaging about 98 percent. The OEM’s chief 787 test pilot flatly indicated: “that number is not where we would like it to be, we were expecting it to increase.” The industry sets reliability benchmarks for aircraft, particularly newly introduce models that must meet higher customer expectations. According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, Boeing pegs reliability of new aircraft to that of the previous generation 777 fleet at comparable times of product rollout and fleet operating time. The “triple seven” has been widely recognized as one of the most reliable.

Thus far, 787’s have logged more than 490,000 hours of service, but a series of various ongoing snafu’s or malfunctions have caused some setbacks with both production volumes of new aircraft as well as operation of existing aircraft. However, Boeing officials report that the situation is improving. With its latest new “dash nine” variant of the 787, Boeing has further taken on more design management to insure overall reliability of system components. 

The report itself provides yet another reminder of the very high overall reliability standards that today’s more advanced and technology laden aircraft must meet.  It is also a reinforcement to the overall criticality of integration of product design with physical and software performance. Not many industries with such a complex hardware, software and bill-of-materials complexity can meet the standards of 98 percent reliability let alone even higher levels.

Bob Ferrari


A Lesson in Emerging Market Dynamics Within Consumer Electronics Supply Chains

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A new dynamic is occurring within the global E-tablet market, one that is being orchestrated by some key suppliers. This dynamic provides a reminder to the crucial importance of supplier intelligence strategies.

The Wall Street Journal recently observed that global microprocessor chip maker Intel, in response to being shut out as a key supplier for the Apple iPad and iPhone as well as Samsung models, is wooing smaller electronic tablet providers within China. The strategic objective is sub $250 tablet markets that are attractive to consumers within emerging market economies.

Intel has been calling on the likes of Shenzhen Hampoo Science & Technology Co., Shenzhen Ramos Digital Technology and select other China based mid-sized consumer electronics providers. These companies were previously learning towards existing ARM-based chip producers as well as Google’s Android operating system. According to the WSJ: “Among other tactics, Intel has taken a cue from Chinese chip makers and last year began offering “reference designs”- essentially ready-made tablet designs that allow manufacturers to create a product in as little as one month.” Intel has further sped-up its chip product development cycles in China.

This week provides another related development.  Microsoft announced that it would expand its subsidies to vendors for Windows-based tablets and sub 9 inch models priced below $250, in essence receiving free Windows licenses. Microsoft is betting that tablets featuring full Windows functionality, in combination with lower-cost processors, have a good chance of capturing added market-share from Android devices. A posting by Digitimes reports that with this new strategy, China white-box, private brand manufacturers have quickly raised their proportion of Windows based tablets.

Two major, influential suppliers are thus in the process of altering existing market dynamics and the stakes are high.  The sub-$250 electronic tablet market could lead to larger production volumes and subsequently, leverage existing electronic content distribution strategies.

As Supply Chain Matters has noted in previous commentaries, within today’s highly dynamic high tech and consumer electronics supply chains, key component suppliers can serve as either a strategic partner or a potential market disruptor by shifting product and market development strategies. The takeaway is that supply chain and procurement sourcing leaders need to fully understand the markets they serve and the key strategic suppliers within that market.  Supplier intelligence has never been as crucial as it is today. A key sourcing decision made for certain business outcome purposes can have ramifications when deep pocket suppliers elect to counter that strategy.

Bob Ferrari


Volkswagen Announces Expanded Investment in the United States

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Volkswagen announced today that the company plans to add a long awaited 7 passenger mid-sized SUV to the U.S. auto market in late 2016 and that the design and production of this vehicle will originate from VW’s current facility in Chattanooga Tennessee.   

Volkswagen CrossBlue SUV concept

Source: Car and Driver

 

The German based automaker indicated that it plans to invest $600 million to both establish a new research center to be named National Research& Development and Planning Center to help design this new SUV and expand the existing Chattanooga to accommodate a new SUV production line. The new research center is expected to employ upwards of 200 engineers while an additional 538,000 square feet of capacity and an incremental 2000 factory jobs will be added to the U.S. facility. With this new incremental investment, annual production volumes at Chattanooga would rise to 250,000 vehicles.

The company re-iterated that from 2014-2018, it will be investing more than $7 billion in capital resources in both the U.S. and Mexico in order to fulfill its goal to deliver 800,000 vehicles in U.S. and North America sales volume.

This new model is to be based on the CrossBlue concept, developed specifically for the North American market and unveiled last year at the Detroit Auto Show. According to a posting by Car and Driver, the model is designed to compete with the likes of the Honda Pilot, Ford ExplorerJeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander. Emphasis is on style and very high fuel economy including a diesel powered version. This Car and Driver article published in January 2013 declared that it was almost a certainty that the SUV would be produced in Chattanooga.  So much for hype, drama and speculation.

Business media has widely reported that efforts by VW to broaden its penetration of the U.S. auto market continue to stall.  According to a published report from Bloomberg regarding the latest announcement, VW’s U.S. sales declined 22 percent in June, accelerating an overall annual decline of 13 percent for the first-half of 2014. That is counter to a reported 4.2 percent increase in the overall U.S. market during the same period.

Readers may recall that in mid-February an effort to have workers at Chattanooga represented by the United Auto Workers union was narrowly defeated. The Chattanooga production facility was one of a very few Volkswagen global based facilities not having a formal Works Council and thus the German based IG Metall labor union advocated to Volkswagen’s senior management to encourage the formation of such a structure in the U.S.  The ultimate vote failed to win a majority, but the vote was close, with a final reported tally of 712 to 626 indicating rejection of labor union organization. Leading up to the vote, a highly charged campaign by local legislators and activists alleging that union representation would jeopardize any future work being sourced at the plant, including the pending SUV model.  Today’s VW announcement includes statements from many of the same politicians echoing the positive implications for the local economy.

However, VW may also be addressing the need for more open worker input to decisions. Today’s VW announcement additionally indicates that Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s General and Works Council will join the Board of Directors of Volkswagen Group of America “to play a more concentrated role in shaping our U.S. strategy in the future.” In the press release, Osterioh indicates that he is “determined to uphold the interests of Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga. Previous media reports have quoted Osterloh as indicating that having a Works Council was an important factor that would play into whether another product would be made in the U.S. facility. Of more interest, four days ago, the UAW also announced that it will open a branch office close to the Tennessee facility.

Obviously, VW is late to the party in introducing a U.S. model SUV, and two years is a long time in today’s consumer’s markets.  This is a high stakes effort that requires total collaboration and succinct decision-making. Engineering, product management, supply chain and production teams will have to highly synchronize efforts to assure the 2016 milestone will happen. For its part, VW corporate will have to shed its centralized decision-making model and let the new North America based research center carry the ball.

Bob Ferrari


Airbus and Boeing Announce First-Half Commercial Aircraft Shipments

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Both Airbus and Boeing announced their commercial aircraft deliveries for the first-half of 2014, which are indicators of each OEM’s current supply chain support activity. These announcements come as a prelude to this month’s Farnborough International Airshow in Great Britain, a premiere event for announcing newly booked orders.

Airbus indicated that it delivered 303 aircraft through the end of June, an increase of 2.7 percent from the year earlier period. The aerospace OEM indicated that its plans call for total 2014 aircraft deliveries to match the 2013 number of 626 aircraft. On the inbound order front, Airbus booked 290 net commercial aircraft orders in the first-half although cancellations surged after global carrier Emirates cancelled its outstanding order for 70 A350 aircraft.

Boeing indicated that it delivered 342 aircraft in the first six months including 48 of the 787 Dreamliner’s. That 787 number is slightly below Boeing’s initial estimates for monthly 787 production volumes in 2014. The numbers include the delivery of 239 new 737 Next Generation aircraft which equate to an average production run-rate of 40 per month which is a considerable production pace.  The current pace of commercial aircraft deliveries would position Boeing’s supply chain in a position to exceed the total 648 total commercial aircraft delivered in 2013.

While both Airbus and Boeing supply chain teams should be applauded for first-half performance, the fact remains that multi-year order backlogs remain rather large that the jet buying frenzy among Asian based carriers may give way to a more sober approach that reflects the current global airline challenges of intense competition, pilot shortages and inadequate infrastructure. As Supply Chain Matters and now traditional business media has opined in previous commentaries, multi-year backlogs can give way to more changing market dynamics.  The recent Emirates announced cancellation of its hefty A350 order could be considered another indicator of changing industry dynamics.

We again echo our prior advisory, namely that an enviable industry position awash with order backlog does not condone a business-as-usual focus on product lifecycle and supply chain management. Rather, dynamic and responsive capacity management, end-to-end value chain intelligence, enhanced supplier collaboration and goal-sharing will all come into play as aerospace supply chains continue to adjust to extraordinary and constantly changing industry dynamics.

Bob Ferrari


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