The current waves of industry acquisition frenzy continue as cheap money remains available, and as usual, industry supply chains are impacted.
Today’s business headlines include a massive deal involving two global automobile systems, components and parts suppliers. ZF Friedrichshafen AG announced its intent to acquire TRW Automotive Holdings in a reported all-cash deal that is estimated to be in excess of $11 billion. According to reports, this deal would form an industry supplier with combined annual revenues near $41 billion, rivaling the size of other major global industry suppliers Robert Bosch and Denso. Under the deal, TRW would become an integrated but separate operating unit of ZF. The combined research and development investment portfolio exceeds $2 billion. This transaction requires several closing conditions and the approval of TRW stockholders, and is expected to close in the first-half of 2015.
According to the press release and statements from ZF’s CEO, the prime motivation for this combination is combining of product innovation resources applied to markets in electro-mobility and autonomous driving. TRW Automotive is a supplier of automotive integrated safety electronics, sensors, steering, suspension and integrated braking systems. TRW’s production and supply chain resources are global in scope and include support for major automotive production regions of United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America. ZF is a closely-held global supplier in transmission driveline, axle and chassis technology with 122 facilities in 26 countries and is a major supplier to German based mainline and premium model OEMS’s including Volkswagen. Combined, both suppliers will more than double revenues in support of major regions of China and the United States, and be able to support a fairly broad area of automotive and truck component system supply needs. With its combination with TRW, ZF has the opportunity to significantly increase its revenues and presence in the U.S. market.
The talks between these two automotive industry suppliers have been percolating for some time, and according to a published report from The Wall Street Journal, other suppliers such as Delphi Automotive, BorgWarner and AutoLiv have each expressed interest in “bulking up through acquisitions” in order to have sufficient scale to further stay ahead of product innovation needs to support various global automotive OEM’s. OEM’s have a desire to move forward in electric drivetrains and autonomous driving systems but prefer that system component innovation come from Tier One and other suppliers.
This wave of acquisitions involves other industry as well. Business headlines today include reports of a percolating massive mega-deal between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SAB Miller that could involve upwards of $122 billion. That would involve the combination of two of the world’s largest brewers and according to the WSJ, put control of nearly one-third of global beer supply under one company, and a wide range of brands.
The beat goes on and industry supply chains will have to continue to deal with the opportunities and/or consequences.
In a few short hours, Apple will once again announce a new set of innovative products to the global community amid a flurry of social and business media posts, streaming commentary and headlines. Announcements are expected on the new iPhone 6 models that will include more elegant physical design, innovative materials such as sapphire-based screens, as well as new functionality. Pundits further expect the long-awaited announcement of the wearable iWatch along with a new iPad model that features a super large screen version.
As we have noted in prior Supply Chain Matters commentary, the one certain thing at the end of today is that Apple’s supply chain ecosystem remains under the gun to deliver on the collection of high expectations. There are continued reports of big bets on expected shipments to be supported for the upcoming holiday period, production yield challenges associated with last-minute design change involving the larger screen displays of the iPhone 6, as well as reports of a simultaneous and the unpredicted Q1 introduction of the rumored 12.9 inch iPad in conjunction with the announced Apple-IBM alliance focused on business applications enablement.
TechCrunch recently posted a commentary citing sources indicating that Apple is already tying up air freight capacity out of China for the forthcoming months as it floods channels with last-minute shipments, which is reportedly causing some delays for other manufacturers. Whether that’s true or not, it reflects a certain state. The scramble is in high gear and all hands are expected to be on-deck on a global-wide basis in the coming weeks awaiting input from Apple’s Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process.
Every year at this point, we have noted that Apple’s supply chain is about to be put to the ultimate test. Every year, the stakes seem to get higher and more complex. Like all of our readers, we await the forthcoming chapter in this saga. Can the number one rated supply chain ecosystem repeat in meeting the high expectations and business outcomes of its demanding business partners? Will other high tech and consumer electronics supply chains feel additional impacts?
We will all know the results and the implications in Q1.
At Supply Chain Matters, we relish when elements of the Wall Street community recognize the critical link of supply chain performance and responsiveness with supporting positive product brand and business outcomes. Thus we were attracted to this week’s posting by Motley Fool concerning what is often rated as the number one supply chain: Is Apple’s Supply Chain a Risk to the Company?
The overall concerns raised in this commentary should not be new news to our community, especially those that often follow Supply Chain Matters. The commentary observes that the supply chain is more difficult than it appears (really!), even though the definition of what is incorporated in supply chain is somewhat simplistic. More importantly is this commentary’s linkage of a corporate culture that is product innovation driven, and how that impacts supply chain responsiveness.
We have brought forward that dimension in many of our Apple supply chain commentaries, the most frequent addressing how last-minute product design changes on the pending iPhone 6 impacted ramp-up production schedules or the current aggressive plan to introduce a new 12.9 inch iPad in Q1 .
A somewhat novel aspect to this commentary is calling attention to the fact that Apple CEO Tim Cook, having come from a background in supply chain, should have been aware of supply chain risks. Our response is: Of course he is aware, and he, in-turn has obvious high expectations in his supply chain partner network to rise to challenge, as they have before.
There is speculation among Wall Street investors as to the scope and breadth Apple’s pending product announcements scheduled next week, along with the market availability of these products in the upcoming holiday focused quarter. In its conclusion, the Motley Fool commentary kind of throws supply chain ‘under the bus’:
“As Apple continues to bring new and exciting technologies to its products, at times there will be delays in both supply and manufacturing processes. In addition, Apple’s going to take its time bringing a cohesive, end-user-focused, product to market. It isn’t always fast, but it’s worth waiting for.”
Supply Chain Matters and many of our community would most likely have a different perspective. A supply chain supporting innovative products as its prime business outcome must be designed to support agility, flexibility and responsiveness to constant product changes and new product introduction cycles. It is not a supply chain driven solely by lowest cost dimensions, but rather scale and responsiveness dimensions.
The good news is that once in a while, Wall Street can appreciate supply chain capability, even as some activist investors constantly strive to destroy years of investment and resources in supply chain capability.
Three weeks ago, Supply Chain Matters commented on the effort underway among Apple’s ecosystem of suppliers and manufacturing partners to prepare for the upcoming product launch and distribution of the new model iPhone. Our commentary made note of reports indicating a number of moving milestones and potential challenges related to new product production ramp-up and product yield. Besides the next generation of the iPhone, there were additional published reports indicating that Taiwan’s Quanta Computer would begin mass production of Apple’s new smartwatch in July, with the planned product launch coming as early as October.
Today, Bloomberg, citing sources with knowledge, is reporting that Apple suppliers have also begun initial manufacturing of the planned new models of the iPad. According to the report, volume production of the next generation full-sized 9.7 inch version of the new model iPadAir is underway, with a newer version of the 7.9 inch iPadmini now entering production with general availability expected by the end of the year. The product introduction announcement is reported to be either at the end of Q3 or early Q4, but many Apple watchers are betting on the month of October, since other next generation products are scheduled for market introduction in that month. In any case, the NPI and volume production scenarios for iPad and iPhone are both pressing towards critical windows for required availability.
The latest quarterly financial results for Apple reflected a marked decline in iPad sales volumes, declining by over 13 million units, thus the upcoming new product introduction cycle is crucial. Timing is critical since there must be inventory available when consumers elect to make their end-of-year holiday purchases.
Like all things related to Apple’s product innovation cycles, design engineers introduce last-minute component features that would challenge any high volume focused supply chain. In our previous iPhone6 commentary, we highlighted reports of yield challenges with the larger LCD screen, the rumored inclusion of sapphire based screens and continued challenges for higher-volume production of fingerprint scanners. The next generation iPad Air is strongly rumored to include more innovative anti-reflective coating as well as a fingerprint sensor.
A separate report from the Associated Press further indicates that Apple’s sapphire glass provider, GT Advanced Technologies, indicated this week that its production facility is close to starting production, but does not expect to reach full operational production until early 2015. That is not an encouraging report for Apple’s supply chain planners and will likely lead to further tough decisions in the weeks to come.
Apple supply chain teams indeed important challenges is the coming 12 weeks with many simultaneous moving milestones impacting multiple product management plans. It is a consummate example of changing information in constant motion. Integration of NPI and supply chain information coupled with multi-tier response planning will invariably be put to the test.
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.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
A posting on Supply & Demand Chain Executive highlights the results of the 14th annual North American Automotive Tier 1 Supplier Working Relations Index, which is an industry study on the major U.S. and Japanese automotive OEM’s relationships with suppliers. This annual study focuses primarily on OEM’s Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Honda and Toyota which currently comprise upwards of 80 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.
This ranking study is rather significant since it ranks purchasing top leadership, buyer behavior and transparency and other factors that lead to perceived positive supplier relationships.
The article highlights that both Toyota and Honda’s efforts to improve supplier innovation and relationships have, once again, gained the upper hand. Both OEM’s are ranked first and second respectively with Honda rated as “most preferred” customer among all OEM’s rated. Honda’s increase was reported to come primarily to improvements in three foundational key areas: supplier relationship, supplier communication, and supplier profit opportunity. “Honda is top-rated with Toyota in paying invoices on time and according to terms, as well as in resolving invoice payment issues. Honda is also tied with Toyota in allowing suppliers to recover material cost increases and in the confidential treatment of proprietary information and intellectual property.”
This author has personal consumer experience on the benefits of such supplier collaboration. Our household recently purchased the latest Honda Accord and it impressed and sold us with its array of on-board technology and driver improvements. Our purchase came after evaluating and test driving most all of the automotive premium brands.
Nissan was noted as second most improved, and took over the third place rating that previously was attributed to Ford Motor Company, which slipped to the fourth position. The article notes: “Significant improvement occurred due to suppliers being given greater flexibility in meeting piece price and tooling objectives, and in Nissan covering sunk costs when programs were delayed or cancelled. Nissan, however, is the least fair, along with Chrysler, in allocating chargebacks to suppliers, but its treatment of confidential proprietary information and intellectual property is significantly higher than Chrysler or GM.”
Of far more significance, General Motors has fallen into last place among the six U.S. and Japanese OEM’s ranked. According to the Supply & Demand Chain report: “The primary reasons for the drop are a decrease in supplier trust, in supplier communication and the amount of help GM provides (or doesn’t provide) to suppliers to reduce cost and improve quality. GM is ranked lowest in protecting suppliers’ intellectual property and proprietary information. GM is also the least likely to allow recovery of material cost increases. As a result, GM is now the least preferred customer of suppliers, in spite of the efforts of the purchasing VP to improve, an example of good leadership, but poor execution by buyers who interface with suppliers on a daily basis.”
In the light of the current blitz of product recalls emanating from General Motors, 29 at last count involving upwards of 15.4 million vehicles, Supply Chain Matters could not help but conclude that the current supplier ranking at the GM recall crisis do not make for a positive mix right now, when supplier responsiveness is the most crucial.
The article further notes that if German auto brands were added to the study, BMW would likely be ranked second overall, while Mercedes would be well below Volkswagen and General Motors. That seemed even more profound.
This study’s authors noted the overall results of this recent supplier relationship survey as history repeating itself. U.S. OEM’s, under new purchasing leadership, made previous significant improvements in supplier relationships, only to once-again, fall back to prior levels. Chrysler’s deterioration has come under the leadership of Fiat, which has aspirations to increase its North American and global presence.
By our lens, the overall takeaway from this latest survey is that core standards that value suppliers in foundational and innovation focused elements remain as differentiators while old ways and practices of beating up suppliers often persist, even after an industry crisis would have provided a motivation to change.