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Category Archives: Business Sense

Makers

I spent the past week at the University of Birmingham in England with a group of 16 Operations and Economics Professors from across Europe. This was the EC “Makers Conference.” I was there to lecture and to represent the Reshoring Institute (www.ReshoringInstitute.org ). This group of universities is working together to provide research and assistance to companies that are reshoring manufacturing and building production capability in Europe. Some of the biggest buzz of the week was around the idea of Industry 4.0 (the Internet of Things) and Servitization.

The term “Industrie 4.0” comes from a project in the high-tech strategy group of the German government, which promotes connection via the Internet. It is the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing.

  1. The first industrial revolution was the mechanization of production using water and steam power
  2. The second industrial revolution introduced mass production with the help of electric power
  3. The third industrial revolution was the digital revolution and the use of electronics and IT to further automate production
  4. The fourth industrial revolution is the Internet of Things

Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is all about connecting machinery to the Internet. Industry 4.0 creates the “smart factory” where machinery and processes are monitored over the Internet and then communicate and cooperate with each other. Just imagine up to 50 billion machines connected in some way over the Internet.

This of course, has significant ramifications for Reshoring. The more automation is introduced into manufacturing, the more efficient labor becomes. This shifts the economics of manufacturing to allow for the total cost of ownership/production to be competitive in the US. This supports reshoring of production or producing in local markets for the local consumers. The overall cost to produce and deliver goods declines.

Makers

Hoverboards are very popular holiday gifts this year, but the stories about the boards that explode are all over the news.  Many retailers including Amazon.com and Target stopped selling them, and several commercial airlines banned them aboard their aircraft.

So what happened in the manufacture of these items to make them so dangerous? In the reported incidents, the lithium ion batteries in the hoverboards caught fire while charging or just riding them. The reasons for the combustion process is well-known when a battery is defective. The problems with these batteries were identified in laptops and cell phones a few years ago.  What isn’t so transparent are the sourcing and manufacturing processes for the boards being produced in China.

Hoverboards are new, exciting and popular products and this combination creates a frenzy of manufacturing opportunity for Chinese manufacturers. Because of the popularity and the potential for high volumes and high profits, knock-off brands proliferate very fast in the extremely competitive changed to avoid patent infringement laws. The raw  materials sourcing for knock-offs may come from completely different suppliers. Cheaper knock-off products means cutting corners in the factory to keep production costs low.

US safety standards are not all in place yet for these new products. US Customs may be allowing imports to enter the US based on safety standards for similar products, following the current requirements for imports. Some manufacturers may have obtained UL certificates on certain component parts, but not for the hoverboard as a whole. Raw materials such as the actual batteries may be knock-offs, too. You cannot trust the  well-known top brands either. The high demand is likely to cause sourcing from multiple Chinese factories with limited experience and untested component suppliers. No Chinese agency is overseeing the quality of exports from China.

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Montgomery County Fire and Rescue

It’s common to evaluate potential supplier and supply chain partner’s financial position before placing an order or signing a contract. In fact, most purchasing departments these days, require obtaining supplier key financial data as a standard part of the procurement process. This financial data is then evaluated by the company finance or accounting department and the risk associated with the supplier or supply chain partner is determined. If the supplier is a publically traded US company, that’s easy to do as these companies must comply with SEC rules on financial reporting. But you should be leery of accepting information provided by Chinese suppliers at face value.

China’s largest banks typically only lend to the largest corporations, leaving small and medium sized suppliers to obtain loans from friends and relatives or from a “shadow bank.” Shadow banks are private lending companies that are not regulated by the Chinese government. These shadow banks lend money at a much higher rate of interest, squeezing the small suppliers’ already-thin profit margins. So if you are buying from a Chinese supplier, you should ask and verify where their working capital comes from. You just might find that some suppliers cannot make their loan payments and will simply shut their doors and disappear, leaving you scrambling to find another manufacturer. Finding working capital in China is risky business.

Enter: The Bank of Foxconn. Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and maker of iPhones, iPads and many brands of laptops, has ventured into the lending world. To protect its suppliers from the pitfalls of shadow banking in China, Foxconn is now making business loans. That makes Foxconn the banker for the world’s electronics supply chain. And Foxconn isn’t the only company to provide banking services in China. Baidu (the “Google” of China), Alibaba (the “Amazon” of China) and Tencent ( WeChat and mobile games) all have lending banks, too. Lending to small and medium businesses provides higher returns to Foxconn than they can make on their contract manufacturing business. It also provides an opportunity for suppliers to borrow at a lower rate than from shadow banks. Foxconn reportedly has obtained licenses from Chinese local governments to provide loans, factoring, financial guarantees and equipment leasing.Foxconn

When evaluating suppliers, be sure to ask where their funding comes from, and don’t be surprised if the answer is the Bank of Foxconn.

Walmart 2015

Last week we participated in the Walmart US Manufacturing Summit in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart has taken the lead and has ignited the Reshoring movement in America by committing to spend $250 Billion for products Made in the USA over the next few years. The annual Summit was an amazing event again this year, with an important “Open Call” day for suppliers pitching their American-made products to Walmart buyers.
Walmart estimates that 1 million new US jobs will be created through this initiative, including direct manufacturing job growth of approximately 250,000 jobs and indirect job growth of 750,000 in the support and service sectors. This alone is important for rebuilding the US economy, but because of Walmart’s size and influence, other retailers are likely to follow Walmart’s lead and establish initiatives of their own that will also result in more job creation in the US. And as we know, Retailers are the “Mothers of all Supply Chains.” These initiatives will affect manufacturers and their global supply chains.
Walmart is quickly becoming a catalyst for the Reshoring movement for another important reason. By igniting the US manufacturing movement, suppliers and their supply chains will cause the reshoring and redevelopment of key industries needed to support manufacturing in general. Take small motor manufacturers, for example. These small motors are in many consumer products such as lawn mowers, vacuums, hair dryers, and small appliances. Yet most of the small motor production was offshored to China in the early 2000s. Bringing back the production of these motors will help boost US content for many US manufactured industrial products.
Plastic injection molding, cut-and-sew equipment and other component parts will be reshored as a result of this movement. The skills to support all kinds of manufacturing were offshored too, and now skilled labor is in very high demand in America. So the Reshoring movement will drive the redevelopment of these industries and skills in America.
The federal government is supporting innovation through the bi-partisan Revitalize American Manufacturing Act of 2014 and the establishment of 45 Innovation Institutes, bringing together companies and universities to co-invest in advanced manufacturing technologies.
Walmart is the company that will make the difference because it is basing the need for innovation on the demand of its customers, and that is powerful.

tppThe TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trade Agreement) is at best, difficult to understand. There are a lot of arguments to be made on both sides of the agreement and it can be tough to wade through all of them and read the long associated text in articles for and against. So let me simplify why I am for it.

  1. Increased trade helps create more jobs, including manufacturing jobs that pay more. In our quest to reshore manufacturing, we are trying hard to rebuild manufacturing in the US and the TPP will help. One out of every five jobs in the US can be tied to international trade (about 38 million jobs).
  2. Manufacturing jobs pay better (about 18% better than other jobs). In the US, manufacturing jobs pay between $65K and $85K – squarely in the middle class. And middle class people buy houses, cars, big-screen TVs; they shop at Walmart and send their kids to college. They are the heart and soul of the United States and keep our middle-class economy going strong.
  3. 95% of consumers live outside of the US and with the middle classes growing worldwide, particularly in Asia, our US export markets can be expected to grow. Manufacturing products in America for export put US residents to work, and that is good for all of us.
  4. Trade agreements level the playing field. It’s no secret that foreign governments offer incentives and subsidies to their own manufacturers and exporters. And because the US has such an open-economy, allowing for all kinds of imports, we are seen as a big, red target market for foreign products. Trade agreements put equal rules in place so that all signatories have to play by the same rules and regulations. This will help our exporters and slow or stop unfair imports into the US. We will have legal recourse when the rules aren’t followed.
  5. Small and medium-sized exporters benefit the most because the regulatory hurdles and challenges of foreign countries are standardized or removed. In addition, we see the most reshoring activity happening in small and medium sized companies, so growth in manufacturing is in the US, plus an improved ability to export. The projections say that 98 percent of these companies will benefit from TPP.
  6. Those countries participating in TPP will be required to abide by environmental and labor conditions oversight. While this may not fix the pollution and human rights issues in all participating nations, it is a very strong step in the right direction.

If we sit back and do nothing, surely China will step in with an overriding agreement of their own and it may not be so favorable toward US manufacturers. With TPP passage, we will continue to play a leadership role in Pacific trade.

The bottom line for me is the test of rebuilding the middle class in America through manufacturing. TPP will do that by giving access to export markets for small and medium-sized manufacturers. And that is good for America.

I spoke at the Global Supply Chain Council’s Sourcing Shift Conference in Shanghai last week. The audience was a mix of c-level executives and very senior sourcing people. These folks have been running international sourcing and manufacturing operations throughout China and across Asia for many years. They are savvy business people with amazing international experience.
So I was astonished that almost no one in the crowd had heard about America’s Reshoring movement. A 2014 Boston Consulting Group report says that 52% of American corporations over $1B in revenue are considering Reshoring. And with Walmart’s new pledge to spend $250B on US-made goods over the next 10 years, Reshoring is all over the news.
We listened to various speakers talking about the shift of manufacturing from China to even lower cost countries including Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The cost per hour comparisons were remarkable. They quoted “cut and sew” and assembly operations in Myanmar at $.35/hour and Bangladesh at $.33/hour. Yes, you read that right…thirty-three cents per hour. These sourcing folks and the multinationals they represent are still chasing the lowest labor cost to produce their products.
Then it was my turn to talk about how Reshoring will affect China and specifically, how it will change these people’s jobs. I asked for a show of hands to see how many people were familiar with the American Reshoring movement. Only three or four raised their hands.
So as I described the Reshoring movement in America, they were fascinated. “How can it be that Americans will pay so much more for American-made goods?” they asked. I explained about the new “economic patriotism” that has enveloped the country. Americans want to rebuild the economy and believe that bringing back manufacturing is one way. But products must also be cost competitive. To achieve this, reshored manufacturing must be very automated including the use of robotics, 3D printing and 5-axis milling. “This is not a return to 1960’s manufacturing,” I said. “It is an evolution. And, in fact, the costs can be very competitive with China, when production is fully automated and when the total cost of ownership is considered.”
That got their attention. They are used to dealing with total cost comparisons. They have seen amazing changes in China over the past 25 years and understand the potential for evolution. And suddenly they understood. Their sourcing jobs are going to change, too.
Sourcing Shift Conf

2013-01-23 05.43.24I just finished a consulting project for a major international brand that wants to enter the eCommerce market in Russia.  Although not new to eCommerce, my client was looking for a more in depth review of the possibilities and capabilities.

Among the many challenges with logistics in Russia, some are unique requirements that don’t exist in other places.  For example, when customers order fashion items over the Internet or via a call center, they expect overnight delivery to locations in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  But this overnight delivery also includes a specific appointment time and a fashion consultant who delivers the goods to the customer’s door and then waits while the items are tried on.  I suspect they also provide feedback….”That makes you look fat”  etc…

Russian customers are among the most demanding anywhere in the world.  But there are other factors at work here, too.  In order to deal with significant petty theft, packages would never be left on someone’s doorstep. They must be delivered and signed for in person.  Credit cards are not widely used via the Internet or over the phone in Russia, so the majority of transactions are done COD.  Russian Post is often slow and unacceptable for customers of eCommerce. Call centers are expected to follow up with every customer to assure satisfaction with their purchase.

The logistics challenges in the Russian market are significant.  The overall supply chain has to be flexible enough to accommodate creative solutions to inventory stocking levels, security, customs clearance and currency exchange.  Returns are very high because customers will often order multiple sizes and reject the unwanted merchandise which then must be returned to the fulfilment center and restocked expeditiously.

To address these issues in Russia, some eCommerce companies have developed fully integrated end-to-end eCommerce businesses including: web store development, web site and shopping cart management, call centers, fulfillment centers, delivery services and fashion consultants. Necessity is the mother of invention.

eCommerce can be a challenge in any country, particularly the Third World where delivery capabilities are underdeveloped. But there is no stopping the double-digit growth of on-line shopping around the world.  The unique requirements of B2C business are yet another avenue for which Supply Chain professionals must gain competence

RESHORINGFor the past 15 years or so, I have been helping companies offshore their manufacturing.  There have been, and continue to be, pretty significant cost savings in low-cost labor markets.  But with the waning US economy, it’s time we wake up and put some Yankee ingenuity into bringing some manufacturing back. We think it is possible to bring 15-20% of offshore manufacturing back to the US.

I am not saying we can or should bring it all back.  There are still global cost advantages to low-cost labor markets.  And China represents the largest single target market in the world to sell goods to.  Companies should continue to  manufacture in China to serve the Chinese market.

The U.S. manufacturing sector has added 430,000 jobs since 2010; a small trickle of what we need to recover, but still a move in the right direction. Companies that are reshoring include some of the nation’s largest manufacturers: Apple, General Electric, Ford, Caterpillar and NCR.  A 2012 study concluded that reshoring could add 2 million to 3 million jobs and an estimated $100 billion in annual output to a range of industries by the year 2015.

But bringing manufacturing back isn’t as easy as you may think.  There are a host of considerations and analyses that companies must do to determine the costs and feasibility of reshoring. Several of the important factors in the original offshoring decisions have dramatically changed. Consider these 5 factors as the initial steps in determining your need to rebalance global manufacturing and reshore some activities back to the US.

1)      Cost Increases, Taxes

2)      Innovation and Automation

3)      Market Access and Localization

4)      Skills

5)      Political Environment and Public Sentiment

We are helping clients evaluate the possibilities now.  For more information go to www.BlueSilkConsulting.com/Reshoring

I spend most of my time working on global supply chain consulting engagements.  But from time to time, I also do Expert Witness work for legal cases involving supply chain issues.  At the moment, I am working on a legal case involving agri-business across Malaysia and Indonesia.

palm oil fruit

Arriving after midnight last night, I couldn’t help feeling a little creepy as we sped from the airport to town in a rickety old taxi.  The third world flew by the windows.  The ancient driver was going 140km/hr until I begged him to slow down. What if we broke down or had an accident?  Were there headhunters lurking? The $50 “best hotel in Sabah” turned out to be rather scruffy around the edges and even the bottled water looked suspicious.  But in the morning, things looked better. Our driver arrived with cold water and a 4-wheel drive Jeep to take us the 50 miles to the plantation, over rutted dirt roads. Finally, we arrived at the estate plantation, a bit rattled from the very bumpy ride.

As remote as this plantation is, in the hot and humid jungles of Borneo, it strikes me that the supply chain issues faced by this company are not that different from any other company large or small, rural or in a metro area.  Here, in the wilds, the managers are worried about planning and forecasting, raw materials such as fertilizer and seeds, labor and transportation.  Harvested product needs to be processed within 48 hours; shipped to the processing plant via rag top trucks.  Then, processed product must get to market to meet customer demand.   The managers worry about IT systems to capture production data and pay the workers.  They do analysis for continuous process improvement.

The plantation workers live in plantation housing and their bare-foot children attend plantation schools.  The people are poor, but very friendly.  Hopefully, the year-round harvest is good, and too much of it won’t be eaten by tree rats or monkeys.  Even rain can ruin the workday.

This is indeed the third world, but they must deal with first world global supply chains and technology. It is gratifying to know that the topics we master as supply chain professionals are truly universal.  The skills we learn apply across industries and continents and cultures.  The differences are fewer than we might expect.

It was an interesting adventure and about as far away from my Silicon Valley home as one could possibly get. At least at home, I don’t have to deal with monkeys…at least not that often.

I recently had the opportunity to travel from the US to Europe to Asia and rode in taxis in all three places.  I was reminded that while a taxi ride may seem mundane, the differences are quite significant. 

 

Take London, for example.  The famous shiny black cabs are the pride of the city: neat, clean and the drivers are professionals who are required to take a test of their knowledge of London before they are allowed to drive a cab. 

 

You will experience the complete opposite in a place like Chengdu, China, a city of 14 million people, where you risk your life when you go for a wild taxi ride…that is IF the taxi driver knows where you want to go and is willing to take you there, after you argue over the destination and the price. It’s the Wild, Wild West of China, where traffic laws and standard driving rules are still in the early development stages.  When the ride is over, you’ll breathe a polluted, but grateful sigh of relief that you survived.

 

In Germany, the taxis are likely to be Mercedes Benz, which feels a little less threatening as the drivers go at break-neck speed to your destination.  Everyone in Germany will tell you that speed is safe. What is it about the Germans and their love of speed?

 

Then there is Seoul, Korea.  A taxi driver will simply refuse to take you anywhere he doesn’t want to go.  And knowing the secret between black cabs (those drivers speak English) and the silver cab (good luck trying to communicate) is important to a successful journey.

 

Un-huh…then there is New York City: taxi drivers in stinky cabs honk at one another, people, cars, and trucks for seemingly no reason at all, all day long and all night long.  On one journey in NYC, when I argued with the driver that my building was across the street in Times Square and I expected him to take me all the way there and not drop me in the middle of the chaos, he yelled at me, “get out of the cab, lady and walk!”

 

And San Francisco, where a drive through the steep hills at 0-60mph for every block, will take years off your life. The drivers are quite friendly and often chatty there, while they risk your life.

 

And then, there is Beijing.  If you don’t ask for the driver to turn on the meter, you will get charged 5-10 times more for the fare than you should.  On a recent trip from the Beijing airport to the Hilton Beijing, I asked for a meter cab.  The driver took me to a side street across from the Hilton, instead of the entrance, and unloaded my bags.  The fare was 58 RMB.  I handed the driver 100 RMB and asked for change and a receipt.  He got in his taxi and drove off with my 100.  I should have known better.