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Revelation That GM Ordered Replacement Ignition Switches Weeks Before Formal Product Recall

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In our ongoing observations of global business developments and the linkages to the areas where supply chains do matter, this editor has been amused as to how equity analysts and business media now hone-in on a company’s supply chain information leaks to uncover information on a particular firm.  To cite an example, Apple’s supply chain across Asia has had numerous information leaks regarding potential new products or supply chain glitches related to Apple.

Supply Chain Matters readers have most likely been following our ongoing commentaries relative to the current crisis that has impacted aftermarket service supply chains within the automotive industry. An explosion of various automotive model recalls has cascaded to unprecedented levels. Beyond the current air bag deflator issues surrounding supplier Takada, lest we forget the incidents of faulty ignition switches leading to a multitude of product recalls involving multiple models of General Motors vehicles.

In what we can best described as “oh crap” news, The Wall Street Journal disclosed this past weekend (paid subscription required) that GM placed an order for a half-million replacement ignition switches almost two months before alerting U.S. safety regulators. The publication cites its source as emails viewed between a GM contract worker and supplier Delphi Automotive, and where the supplier was asked to develop an aggressive plan of action to produce and ship these replacement parts. The article further cites communication among a GM contract worker at Menlo Worldwide Logistics in-turn, seeking a plan from Delphi regarding the build and ship plan for the replacement switches. The report further indicates that it took Delphi about a month to outline a parts shipping plan.

The publication notes that the timing “is sure to give fodder to lawyers suing GM and looking to poke holes in a timetable the auto maker gave for its recall of 2.5 million vehicles. Readers can certainly review the entire WSJ published article which addresses a multitude of implications. However, we feel compelled to add a supply chain planning perspective.

Supporting a product recall of such magnitude requires the coordinated planning of a rather complex spare parts and service management network. Automotive manufacturers know all too well that proper up-front planning and synchronization of parts and dealer servicing resources is required as much as possible, before notifying consumers of the product recall. However, regulatory reporting requirements can foil attempts for proper planning.

Consumers expect to have specific information as to the defective part and when their vehicle will be repaired.  A product recall of the size of 2 million or more vehicles requires urgency to planning and it seems rather plausible that GM would issue such a spare parts order with requirements for aggressive production. It also places supplier Delphi in a rather difficult situation in having to coordinate revised product design specifications within existing production, allocate supplemental resources and generate volumes of parts over and above prior planned spare or production parts schedules.

The sum total of this commentary is perhaps two-fold. First, supply chain information leaks and security is an obvious growing problem. The utilization of emails or spreadsheets to plan or initiate supplier orders adds to the potential of information leaks.

Second, manufacturers often overlook the critical aspects of their service management supply networks, which can often support higher margins than product management value-chains. Just as product supply chains have to manage in the new normal of supply chin complexity while being more responsive to constantly changing events, service supply chains have even more complex challenges. They often represent the most current touch point and customer perception of your brand.

Bob Ferrari

 


Alibaba’s Enormous Online Commerce Potential

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Supply Chain Matters provides a brief contrast to our prior posted commentary regarding Wal-Mart’s efforts to spread out holiday promotions in the coming holiday surge. The Wall Street Journal reports that yesterday, which was China’s celebration of Singles’ Day, online provider Alibaba set a record for China’s largest online shopping day.  The online provider’s various online properties processed a reported $9.3 billion in sales, most likely the equivalent to the Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping holidays in the United States.

The WSJ notes that last year, Alibaba processed $5.9 billion in Singles’ Day sales. China’s premiere online provider also offered a number of pre-holiday promotions which allowed consumers to order ahead of time and complete their sales transaction on the holiday.  Keep in mind that for the most part, Chinese consumers shun the use of credit cards in favor of cash or mobile based payments.

In its fiscal year ending in March, Alibaba recorded the equivalent of $275 billion in various online sales which the WSJ notes is bigger than the combined online sales of Amazon and eBay combined. Included in the information surrounding its recent initial public offering of stock the online provider noted that it is just tapping the enormous potential of its online market.

We can sometimes get enamored with names such as Amazon and Wal-Mart but Alibaba is indeed an evolving player to reckon with in the coming era of online commerce and retail supply chain customer fulfillment.

Bob Ferrari


Wal-Mart Diffuses Black Friday in Favor of Extended Period of Holiday Promotions

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In our ongoing coverage of the current holiday buying surge among online and brick-and-mortar retail supply chains, Supply Chain Matters shares what we believe is some good news.   Wal Mart

Global retailer Wal-Mart indicates that it will abandon its prior emphasis on the singular one-day Black Friday buying holiday and will instead spread promotional incentives over an extended five day period beginning in the last week of November.  By our lens, this is good news for consumers but not so for certain retail competitors.

Wal-Mart’s efforts at spreading out online and in-store buyer incentives allows shoppers greater flexibility to shop for bargains and avoid the craziness and frenzy of Black Friday mobs in stores and online. The retailer’s employees hopefully get some brief time to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday with family and friends. Reports indicate that Wal-Mart will extend promotions thru the entire Black Friday weekend, with an additional flurry of bargains on Cyber Monday. The retailer further indicates that it will be matching online prices from its website as well as in its physical stores.

Other retailers including Amazon have scheduled their holiday promotions to begin earlier in November as well. Already, our inbox contains promotional emails for holiday bargains. What thing is certain, the largest online retailers including Wal-Mart and Amazon will be playing even more hardball in holiday promotions.

All of these efforts can hopefully avoid what occurred in 2013, consumers waiting to the very last days and hours prior to the Christmas holiday to make their purchases only to discover the weakest link, the last-mile of delivery from parcel shipping companies. Both FedEx and UPS have been urging retailers to spread out their promotions and avoid multiple delivery network surges. However, UPS anticipates that its peak day will be December 22. 6 days later than what the package delivery firm planned for in 2013. UPS is planning to process 585 million packages in the month of December.

An added dimension this year is the U.S. Postal Service and its efforts to be a more mainstream player in last-minute last mile parcel delivery. A final dimension in 2014 will be how Amazon and Google’s efforts in piloting their own pilot delivery networks fare in supporting or mitigating surge fulfillment periods.

The not so good news concerns retailers who are still scrambling to get inbound inventories moved through highly congested and near dysfunctional U.S. West Coast ports.  With competitive promotional programs about to kick-off, some retailers will have to fess-up to not having inventory to satisfy consumer holiday needs, or be notified by suppliers that inventory is delayed.  

This is all a game of competitive positioning and the stakes are high. Some business and social media outlets, knowing what may be forthcoming, are advising consumers to wait to the very last-minute before initiating holiday gift purchases.  The premise is that certain retailers might be more motivated to offer more attractive bargains once they assess their inventory situation.

Another certainly is that retail and B2C focused S&OP forums and their supporting supply chains can expect a steady stream of intense activity, and perhaps more surprises now and through the end of December.  It will not be pretty and the winners will be those that can plan and anticipate consumer actions and those that can best respond to changing events.

Keep your web browser pointed to Supply Chain Matters for continuing updates and insights regarding the 2014 holiday surge.

Bob Ferrari


Supply Chain Matters Update Two: Automotive Service and Spare Parts Networks Respond to Crisis

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Supply Chain Matters provides another update to the ongoing crisis involving aftermarket spare parts and service management supply chains within the Automotive sector as unprecedented levels of product recalls stress the system to its limits. U.S. automakers alone Airbaghave recalled more than 30 million vehicles this year as a result of a heightened regulatory environment that has prompted auto makers to issue a recall out of an Abundance of caution and legal protection.

Regarding the product recalls related to the airbag inflators produced by Takata Corrp., this has been a rather busy week of finger-pointing and consternation.

Last week, U.S. regulators nearly doubled the estimate of vehicles subject to recall. Reports have come to light that auto makers and regulators were aware of Takata air bag inflator problems for several years. The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office that led the investigation and $1.2 billion fine on Toyota to settle a previous incident related to unintended acceleration of vehicles is now reported to have launched a preliminary investigation of the ongoing Takata inflator incident. On the political front, Congressional leaders in Washington are threatening more probes of the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration (NHSTA) for its handling on the ongoing air bag inflator incidents, a sure sign of more political pressures and maneuvering.

On Tuesday, the CEO of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the U.S. indicated that he has instructed his dealerships to halt the sales of 400 used cars that are subject to the airbag inflator recall. He further urged regulators to get control of an “incoherent response”.

Yesterday, NHSTA gave inflator supplier Takata a deadline of December 1 to supply added documents and respond under oath to additional questions.

From a service supply chain perspective, NHTSA released details of industry meetings indicating that it will take several months before there are enough spare parts to support the current inflator recall. It appears that most automotive manufacturers are prioritizing the limited supply of replacement inflators to warm and humid regions, which has been identified as the most probable risk for failure and subsequent injury. Reports indicate that BMW, Ford and Mazda are limiting spare replacements to the few identified high-humidity southern U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Indeed, NHTSA had issued guidelines supporting prioritization of replacement parts to these most at-risk regions, but automobile owners remain confused and frustrated as to what to do.  That continues to add more pressure to automobile dealers and their associated services businesses to be able to respond to consumer fears for driving an unsafe vehicle.  In our conversation with various people this week we have already heard stories from those impacted by recall or service campaign notices.

The colliding forces of regulatory, political, and automotive replacement spare parts networks continue and may well continue for many more months.

Bob Ferrari


Automotive Service Supply Chains Undergo Even More Stress

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In a published Supply Chain Matters commentary in June, Service Supply Chains Put to the Ultimate Stress Test in the Automotive Industry, we focused on General Motors, which Automotive Industry Airbag Inflator Product Recallafter intense scrutiny from U.S. regulators and legislators regarding faulty ignition switches among multiple models, had recalled thousands of vehicles. At that time, GM had announced a cumulative 44 product recalls involving nearly 18 million previously sold vehicles not only for faulty ignition switches but for various other lingering quality problems.

Other Automotive OEM’s have also found themselves under intense regulatory scrutiny, and many elected to err on the side of caution and declare product recalls if there were any concerns regarding vehicle or occupant safety. The result led to a Washington Post headline indicating that one out of every ten vehicles on the road had been subject to a recall notice. That amounts to a lot of motor vehicles.

Beyond the challenge of potential damage to brands and subsequent consumer brand loyalty, our primary concern in June was that automotive service and aftermarket supply chains were about to face their biggest stress test ever. The sheer numbers implied that required replacement part inventories were not going to be able to match expected demand and that inventory would have to be re-allocated or alternate suppliers would have to be sourced.  Dealers and authorized repair facilities had to be very careful in scheduling service appointments and setting customer expectations regarding replacement part availability and concerns for vehicle safety. 

Also included in our June commentary, was reference to reports that product recalls related to defective airbag inflators produced by supplier Takata Corp. were expected to increase after a series of investigations.

Flash forward to today, and now the sheer scope and impact of the unfolding product recalls involving defective Takata airbag inflators is approaching millions of additional vehicles and multiple other brands. U.S. regulatory agencies have raised alarms for the safety of occupants with calls for immediate attention.  Web sites are swapped with consumers seeking the status of their vehicles. Business and general media have not taken the time to get the facts sorted out regarding the largest concern being potential defective airbag inflators operating in warm and humid climates. Instead, consumers from across the U.S. are forced to seek answers and demand attention as to whether their vehicle is safe to operate.

By our lens, automotive aftermarket service and parts networks have now been literally thrown under the proverbial bus. 

It wasn’t their fault.

The events did not allow the planning for adequate replacement parts or analysis to the required capacity of service repair and replacement resources. The problem was thrown over the wall because quality monitoring mechanisms stalled and time had run out for planned response. Organizational interplays and CYA were probably at-play as well.

Already, OEM’s such as Toyota are trying to proactively respond to this defective air bag inflator crisis in the most realistic manner.  Reports indicate that Toyota dealers are being requested to disable the potential defective airbag mechanisms of recalled vehicles and instruct vehicle owners to return when replacement parts are made available.  They are doing so because of the reality of backlogged replacement parts which are substantial. In the meantime, temporary labels affixed on vehicles warn occupants of a safety hazard of not having operating airbags.

How comforting is that?

But, without adequate replacement part inventories, there are little options right now.

Service supply networks will invariably come-up with means to prioritize the most important and time sensitive parts requirements and then move on to the various other replacement part requirements to get through this crisis.

The takeaway from these ongoing unprecedented set of automotive industry product recall events is that if the business situation requires much more responsive, supply-chain wide  quality monitoring  mechanisms and more informed service and aftermarket spare parts networks, than provide the necessary tools and resources required to get the job done.

No doubt, there will be considerable repercussions and learning that come from these events. There will invariable be far more attention paid toward vehicle safety, regulatory safety and reporting and supply chain wide quality adherence.

In the meantime, as automotive consumers, we need to allow the time and patience for the dedicated professionals who plan and fulfill aftermarket parts and service event requirements to adequately respond to the crisis at-hand while more attention is directed toward more responsive quality management.

Bob Ferrari

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


UPS’s Latest Survey of Healthcare Supply Chains- Some Interesting Conflicts and Needs for Broader Perspectives

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This week, UPS announced the results of its seventh annual “Pain in the (Supply) Chain survey involving pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains. According to the authors, the survey was conducted from phone interviews with 536 senior supply chain management decision-makers within the healthcare industry.  Global coverage for this survey is noted as Asia, Canada, Latin America, the United States and Western Europe.

For the third consecutive year, the survey points to regulatory compliance as the top supply chain pain point, cited by 60 percent of the 2014 respondents, indicating that this trend alone is driving current business and supply chain changes.  From our Supply Chain Matters lens, that finding is not a surprise since so many pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain are indeed regulated, but more importantly, they are now globally extended for both supply and service demand needs.

The next largest concern was noted as product protection challenges, with 46 percent of respondents citing product security, and 40 percent citing product damage and spoilage as top concerns. Again no surprise, given the ongoing challenge of counterfeit drugs and global extensions of transportation and logistics networks.

However, what was surprising, at least for us, was that a mere 26 percent of these supply chain leaders cite contingency planning as a top supply chain concern. Perhaps this is an area that these supply chain leaders feel is being adequately addressed. Yet, 34 percent of those surveyed in Asia and 22 percent of those residing in Latin America indicated their firm’s supply chain was impacted by an unplanned event in the past 3-5 years. Cited reasons that were noted were:

  • Events being too unlikely or infrequent
  • Back-up infrastructure too expensive to deploy
  • Little or no prioritization being given to this area vs. other challenges

For an industry that is required to spend so much on product development, brand value and patient trust, it is surprising to once again note such viewpoints. The industry need only look to the previous supply chain disruptions that occurred at Johnson & Johnson to ascertain how about contingency planning has become.

Deeper in the UPS news release perhaps finds a rather important assumption related to the above concerns in compliance, product protection and contingency planning.  Many healthcare supply chains are not viewing production, distribution, logistics and transportation as a core capability and have thus outsourced these activities. According to this latest UPS survey, 62 percent of decision makers cited increased reliance on third-party logistics providers as a strategy into the foreseeable future. (3-5 years) Therefore business partners have become an important enabler in helping to overcome stated supply chain challenges.

In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, we called for a broader technology vision among supply chain execution partners, specifically 3PL’s. As more and more industry supply chains opt to outsource logistics, transportation and customer fulfillment to logistics and transportation partners, leveraging the potential benefits of newer technologies in item-level tracking, Internet of Things (IoT) and supply chain control towers become a de-facto capability requirement to overcome business challenges and deliver required business outcomes. Too often today, the outsourced 3PL decision has been driven solely by cost control vs. broader requirements for supply chain resiliency and responsiveness. While UPS and FedEx have embraced advanced technology, other 3PL’s have relied on customers to fund such investments, and there remains the conundrum. For us, these latest UPS survey findings concerning healthcare focused supply chains have special meaning to the new reliance on supply chain execution partners for joint goal enablement. Beyond logistics, globally dispersed contract manufacturers have an important enabling and support role as well.

The report’s executive survey indicates that healthcare supply chain leaders are themselves eyeing technology investments in two specific areas of the supply chain, namely front-end order fulfillment and overall product protection in the form of serialization and item-tracking.  Supply Chain Matters advises these leaders to also consider the all-important supporting element for connecting the front and back-end of the extended healthcare supply chain. That would be a cohesive supply chain business network that synchronizes planning, execution and early-warning intelligence to unplanned events.

Bob Ferrari

 


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