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Breaking News: Tentative Agreement Reached in Labor Contract Talks Involving U.S. West Coast Ports

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To the obvious relief of many industry supply chains, an announcement that a tentative agreement has been reached among the Pacific Maritime Association and longshoremen has finally come.  The announcement came late Friday night, Pacific Time after nearly nine months of ongoing contract talks and rancor.

According to reports, dockworkers are expected to conduct normal port operations beginning this evening. This tentative agreement averts what could have been an even more disruptive scenario of a total shutdown of ports.

This five year contract agreement still needs the approval of longshoremen union members as well as individual employers.  There may also be some local port issues needing resolution.  Thus far, no details of the new contract have been disclosed including the reported final contentious issue related to the selection or elimination of certain arbitrators for work rule disputes.  According to published reports, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, while declining to reveal any details, indicated that employers and the union have agreed to a new arbitration system.

As Supply Chain Matters opined in yesterday’s update commentary, when contract talks were eventually resolved, it will take months before any U.S. west coast port operations return to a state of normalcy, if at all. The underlying issues of the structural impacts of unloading and loading far larger container ships, the notion of proper scheduling of now outsourced trailer carriages and the consequences of trucking lines classifying truck drivers as casual, independent contractors remain ongoing challenges to be addressed.

Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles indicated to the Los Angeles Times on Friday: “more than ever, we need labor and management working together.”  Those words have special meaning for all U.S. west coast ports.

Remember this date, it will serve as the baseline indicator as to how long before U.S. west coast ports return to operational service levels meeting shipper and industry supply chain expectations.  Much work remains, not only from an operations perspective, but also from a shipping lines management planning perspective.

Bob Ferrari

 


The U.S. West Coast Port Crisis and Increased Supply Chain Risk

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Last week, we were reading a recent report produced by the Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply (CIPS) in the U.K. indicating that its risk index reversed in Q4-2014 and reached a nine month high. According to this report:

The world opened up for procurement managers in Q4 2014 with an abundance of cheap oil and gas making suppliers in far flung corners of the world instantly more competitive. Combined with low commodity prices in everything from gold in Ghana to soy beans in Brazil, manufacturers at the top of the global supply chain have grown the complexity and length of their supply chains whilst reducing their input costs.”

That was in Q4, before the crisis involving U.S. west coast ports has made its cumulative impacts on industry supply chains.  Gantry_Load_4

Now, there are multiple business and general media reports of the severe toll that is cascading from the continuing backlog of ships destined to U.S. west coast ports that cannot be unloaded and reloaded on a timely basis. The latest news this weekend is that President Obama has dispatched the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, to California in an attempt to broker an agreement.

Today, a Reuters syndicated report featured on Business Insider provides ample evidence of the rippling effects beyond retail focused supply chains.  Honda Motor now indicates that it is slowing production at certain North America auto assembly plants because component parts in the replenishment pipeline are now impacting the production of this OEM’s Civic, CR-V and Accord models. Similarly, Fuji Heavy Industries, producers of Subaru cars indicates that it is already air freighting parts to U.S. factories through at least the end of this month.

An AP syndicated report featured on business network CNBC indicates that in addition to car parts, imported furniture, medical equipment, bathroom tiles, shoes and other goods are all impacted.  On the export side, meat, produce and other agricultural foods are not moving to Asia destined markets and are in danger of spoilage.

No doubt, the cumulative impact across industry supply chains will be in the billions of dollars if the current labor dispute is not resolved quickly.

Further reported is that the port crisis is impacting available capacity and shipping rates for both sea and air freight, making it even more expensive to implement contingency shipping and logistics plans. Air freight capacity originating from China and the Asia-Pacific region was reduced in 2013-14 due to declining demand and increased costs. Thus, the current surge in contingency shipping demand is chasing limited supply, and no doubt, bigger more influential shippers will be garnered preferential services.

As is often the case with these types of multi-industry supply chain crisis, small and medium businesses will bear the bulk of the economic burden.

Within the U.S. itself, a current period of severe winter weather featuring unprecedented snowstorms and extreme cold weather have paralyzed the U.S. northeastern and Midwest regions and its economies, adding more economic burden.

Tomorrow (Tuesday), west coast dockworkers are supposed to return to work.  All industry eyes are affixed on a speedy and final resolution of the current crisis. Amen to that!

Industry supply chain teams do not need to concern themselves with supply chain risk indices for this quarter and beyond. They will be off the charts and indeed, the perception of global supply chain risk will be at an all-time high.

Today, sensing and real-time awareness across the end-to-end global supply chain network as to where inventory resides and the daily condition of global transportation networks and contingency plans is far more important.  The current crisis will continue to worsen before it gets better.

Longer-term, once the current U.S. west coast port labor contract is resolved, shipping industry interests had better get their acts together and figure out solutions to a number of current industry choke-points and structural deficiencies.  Larger mega container ships will not address the needs of shippers for reliable and efficient logistics and transportation.

The notion of the flexibility and/or cost effectiveness of global supply chains has reached a critical crossroad.

Bob Ferrari

 


Sentencing Begins from One of the Largest Warehouse Thefts in U.S. History

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Supply Chain Matters has opined on more than one occasion that the wheels of justice seems too often crank very slow even though today’s clock speed of business moves at lightning speed. For pharmaceutical supply chains, the mitigation of such thefts remains a rather important component in supply chain risk management and mitigation.

One of the largest warehouse thefts in U.S. history occurred in March 2010 and involved the theft of an estimated $80 million worth of pharmaceuticals from an Eli Lilly warehouse in Enfield Connecticut. In May of 2012, federal authorities arrested two people in connection with the Eli Lilly incident.  According to reports at that time, the arrests were described as a takedown of a major prolific cargo theft ring. Two Cuban born brothers were indicted on federal conspiracy and theft charges and ten additional persons were also charged in federal court.

Since that time, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut accused five individuals in the conspiracy and participation in the theft that occurred in the Enfield Connecticut warehouse. All five have since pleaded guilty. According to evidence and statements collected, the thieves climbed through the roof, slid down ropes and disabled the alarm system and then loaded the 40 pallets of stolen goods into an awaiting tractor trailer utilizing existing fork lifts. The stolen goods were then transported to a public storage facility in the Miami Florida area for black-market distribution.

According to a report published by The Wall Street Journal, the stolen pharmaceuticals included Lily’s antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, antidepressants Cymbalta and Prozac, the cancer treating drug Gemzar, among other drugs. The thieves were obviously seeking high-value goods. These drugs were destined for retail distributors along the U.S. east coast.

Last week, a U.S. federal judge sentenced the first of these criminals, a Cuban citizen living in Florida, to a six year and three month prison sentence in regards to his role in the pharmaceutical theft. Prosecutors were seeking a seven to nine year sentence, citing the seriousness of the crime. However, defense attorneys argued leniency by the defendant’s guilty plea and subsequent actions.

Thus, roughly six years after this high visibility theft, the wheels of justice have begun to close the loop.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies have since garnered a more astute understanding of the increasing occurrences of cargo and retail thefts and the risks that these incidents pose to legitimate pharmaceutical supply chains as well as public health. While the wheels of justice indeed move slow, deterrence, supply chain risk identification and mitigation remain important ongoing initiatives.

Bob Ferrari

 


U.S. Auto Exports Expand in 2014 and So Does Supply Chain Capabilities

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In late December of 2011, Supply Chain Matters raised awareness to Japan based automotive OEM’s, specifically Honda, with plans to shift a major portion of export production capability from North America instead of from Japan.  We have since updated readers on this strategy to include other automotive OEM’s. We did so because for our readers, it provides a valid example of a globally-balanced and flexible global manufacturing sourcing strategy along with proactive supply chain risk mitigation.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal featured a report on 2014 U.S. auto exports, one that confirms rather active evidence that North America auto production continues to be viewed for both domestic as well as global consumption.

The report indicates that U.S. auto exports in 2014 recoded a record for the third consecutive year. In 2014, approximately 2.1 million new cars and trucks were exported to other global regions, an 8 percent increase over that in 2013, according to the U.S. International Trade Association. According to the WSJ, about half of these exports are destined to Canada and Mexico with other countries of mention being China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Exported vehicles include brands such as BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Daimler, Jeep, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. One cited example was the Jeep brand which shipped upwards of 316,000 of that maker’s Wrangler and Cherokee vehicles to export markets. A 50 percent increase from 2012 levels. BMW has plans to boost U.S. production of its X3 and other SUV line-up by 50 percent over the next two years.

The article further points out that while the U.S. dollar is currently strong, these exports efforts began when the dollar was weaker, and momentum has continued.

As we originally observed, the implication in these shifting manufacturing export trends is that U.S. automotive supply chains now cater to the product-unique needs and product demand strategies of certain export markets and there lies the importance of global product platform development strategies.  There is the added need to dynamically plan and respond to constantly changing and different geographic market scenarios. The U.S. automotive supply chain ecosystem therefore benefits and has the continued potential to be globally competitive in margins and consumer fulfillment. The U.S. automotive supply chain further serves as a backup strategy to any major supply chain disruption that might occur in another region.

Whether the growing export trend continues in 2015 is obviously dependent on shifting and highly changing currency trends.  However, the strategy and capabilities invested upwards of five years ago appear to be paying off.

Bob Ferrari


Automotive OEM’s Hightened Sensitvity to Value Chain Quality and Service Networks

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Prediction Ten of our Supply Chain Matters 2015 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains calls for increased attention and new investment interest for service focused supply chains in the coming year. This includes after-market business process services, service parts and service delivery supply and demand business processes.

The obvious reasons are the unprecedented increases in occurrence of product recalls that add large amounts of consumer negativity towards a brand, especially in the U.S. automotive sector.  Too often, there has been a “throw it over the wall” mentality involving service beyond product sale and thus the after-market service supply chain has lagged in process modernization and investment.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article, Auto Industry Galvanized After Record Recall Year (paid subscription but complimentary metered view with sign-up).  This article reminds readers that about 700 individual recall announcements involving more than 60 million motor vehicles occurred in 2014 across the United States, double the previous record logged in 2004. The rate of recalls was the equivalent of one in five vehicles currently in the road.  Many of our readers can probably attest to the current situation.

Auto manufacturers have been forced to clean-up years of defects that were either undetected or ignored amidst heightened regulatory scrutiny.

The result is obvious, service supply chains swamped with requirements for numerous replacement parts and service networks buffeted by consumer rage as to why their perceived unsafe vehicles cannot be immediately repaired.  In the care of the massive recalls involving airbag inflators sourced from supplier Takata, product recalls are prioritized for warm region sensitivity along with broader U.S. wide needs.

The Times article observes that sending out notification letters does not suffice, requiring more direct interaction with consumers. That, by our lens, implies more timely information and visibility as to the prioritization of repair campaigns and availability of required repair parts for specific regions.  The article further hints to underreporting of potential product defects or failures.

OEM’s such as Toyota are overhauling safety and product recall practices as well as processes incorporated within its service networks.  Supply Chain Matters has previously highlighted General Motors new brand survival emphasis on up-front product quality and more responsive tracking and detection of potential product problems.  Social media will play a very important role in these new methods including the transmission of product recall information directly to consumers and their individual vehicles.   Legislators continue utilizing the big-stick of criminal prosecution of executives and a means to motivate automotive OEM’s to be more responsive to product quality and overall vehicle safety.

Crisis often brings opportunity, and in the case of service networks, the opportunity is the ability to leverage today’s more advanced technologies related to vehicle sensors, predictive analytics, advanced simulation and scheduling, demand sensing and item-level B2B business network wide visibility among service focused supply chains.

The forces are indeed in motion for greater attention to service supply chain capabilities in the New Year.

Bob Ferrari


August Explosion at Auto Parts Factory in China- Authorities Clamp-Down on Workplace Safety

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In early August, Supply Chain Matters called attention to a tragic explosion and subsequent fire that occurred at a factory belonging to a Tier Two auto parts supplier located in China. The factory belonged to Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Production Co. and was located in a development zone in the Jiangsu provincial city Kunshan City located about 50 kilometers west of Shanghai. The plant performed plating and polishing of metal hubs that include wheel hubs, a pre-production preparation for aluminum car wheels used by automakers. The explosion was initially believed to have been caused by accumulation of metal dust particles within the facility. At the time of this incident, media reports were unclear as to the full extent of deaths or injuries but the government news agency indicated that 75 workers perished as a result of this accident. The accident was China’s worst industrial disaster in nine years and highlighted continuing problems with workplace safety.

Earlier this week, Chinese investigative authorities reported that the blast killed at least 146 workers, nearly double the initial reported death toll.  Reports in August indicated that there were upwards of 260 workers in the plant at the time of the explosion, and this revised number amounts to a significant casualty toll. According to various global and business media reports, Chinese authorities indicated this week that they would prosecute three senior executives of Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Production as well as 15 Kunshan governmental officials. China’s government further announced the firing of two top officials within the city of Kunshan.

According a published report by the New York Times, Beijing has been holding local government officials and company executives accountable by handing out harsh penalties for work accidents with high casualties. In Kunshan, the investigation team found that local officials were negligent in enforcing safety regulations and that plant management failed to provide safety training for workers, ignored rules on building spacing, density in manufacturing lines, dust cleanup, and use of anti-explosion equipment.

As noted in our August posting, previous incidents of explosions caused from combustible metal parts involved two different suppliers to Apple. In May of 2011, a significant explosion rocked a Foxconn Technology Group production facility located in Chengdu, China where two workers were reported killed. In December of that same year, an explosion at a manufacturing facility of Ri Teng Computer Accessory Co., a subsidiary of Pegatron Corp, located in Shanghai’s Songjiang Industrial Park, injured upwards of 60 workers.

This latest report is a further indication that China’s governmental leaders are indeed clamping down on factory safety standards by holding individual executives and investigative agencies accountable for enforcing worker safety standards.


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