But that’s not the point. Seven thousand miles on trucks, trains and
ships is — by the judgment of the MBA wizards at Bain Capital — way more
businesslike and cost-effective than 45 miles in a Dodge van on Route
This is apparently how the supply chain works nowadays. It’s not for dilettantes like me to plumb its mysteries.
then, I read about Apple’s plans to “reshore” to America a tiny share
of its computer manufacturing in China. Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested
that he’d like to do more, but he’s hobbled by a supply chain that’s
hard to lift up and move around. This reminded me of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where the ghost of Jacob Marley describes Ebeneezer
Scrooge’s burden of penance — for a lifetime of greed and selfishness —
as "a ponderous chain."
Still, I couldn’t help noticing a
paradox. On one hand, Apple can’t make stuff in, say, Freeport, because
putting together a new supply chain would cost a fortune and displace a
network of established links.
On the other hand, Bain Capital
and Sensata, for the sake of trimming the wages, benefits and pensions
of a mere 100 hourly workers, find it easy, thrifty and strangely
gratifying to cast aside a comparatively short and completely intact
supply chain — some of whose links are less than an hour away by Dodge
van — in favor of one that stretches some 7,000 miles over two
continents, requiring interaction among people who speak at least three
distinct languages. And in the process, they ship a whole factory —
lock, stock and heavy machinery — across the Great Plains, the
Continental Divide and the Pacific Ocean.
Far, again, out!
there’s a lot about supply chains that I don’t understand, especially
the rules for outsourcing. But it does occur to me that if shipping jobs
overseas were more like sending Christmas packages to my kids — the
heavier the box and the farther it goes, the more I have to pay —
companies like Bain might be less eager to back up the moving van.
--David Benjamin writes occasionally on technology issues from Brooklyn, usually from the Luddite point of view.
But the words don't hint at the numbers that cause the changes in supply chain to begin with. If the words don't support the decisions the bean-counters made, it's only because the words used aren't quantitiative enough. Look at the bottom line.
Distance between manufacturing and consumption, simply put, is not all there is to the equation. It's just one small aspect of what has to be compared.
What changed, at Apple, to cause any manufacturing to return stateside at all? As far as I can tell, only political posturing changed. They still want this super cheap and mostly manual manufacturing process, because they still need/want to be able to change their product design quickly. Without paying the price that would have to be paid with a highly automated manufacturing facility. Any of that changed suddenly? I mean, or is Foxconn quoting much higher costs to Apple, to cause this change of heart? Doubtful.
The macroeconomic tradeoff arguments, e.g. other related support jobs in the region that are created if manufacturing stays home, are NOT Apple's concern. Companies deal in a microeconomic reality. That's how they survive until tomorrow.
u missed sth here.
sensata definitly got customer in china as well,
by moving to china it can serve it's chinese customers better which is a plus you forget to mention.
Just as chinese made Fender guitars, many of them sold locally.
For those of you without any time in business school (my minor while getting my EE masters), let me clarify a few things about business decisions:
1. Management types are especially prone to fads, mainly because many of their decisions are only partially quantifiable.
2. Offshoring, in particular, seemed like a great idea when gas was extremely cheap, chinese labor rates were extremely low, design cycles were extremely long, all businesses were thought to operate in a strict hierarchal manner (similar to the military or IBM in the 1950's), and all manufacturing that had to be done was transplanting well-worn processes from US soil to Chinese.
3. So, in regards to Bert's question "What changed...to cause any manufacturing to return stateside...?" I would provide the obvious answer: the entire world has changed. Every single justification for outsourcing manufacturing to China initially is no longer valid. Perhaps there are newer justifications for continuing to outsource, but I'm not aware of any yet.
4. Moreover, we're not where we were in 1985. We need to come up with new manufacturing processes, and provide a feedback loop to the designers to improve the product. Very hard to do across the ocean.
5. Moreover, businesses don't operate the way they used to. IBM-style command-and-control structures have given way to Scrum and Extreme Programming reiterative styles. Constant feedback and reiteration is becoming the norm, and this requires quick and meaningful feedback to make work.
6. Moreover, six weeks in a container ship probably works for a white goods with a five-year lifecycle, but surely doesn't work for cellphones with a six month lifecycle.
7. And, finally, we starting to enter an era of cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to program robots, which will render labor costs largely moot, anyway.
First, I think you're forgetting that the Apple decision to bring SOME manufacturing back stateside is merely a token gesture. It's not for iPads or iPhones, for example. So clearly, not that much has changed in the cost equations they see, at any rate. It was some undisclosed fraction of high-end Macs. Hardly their bread and butter.
And sure, in time costs change. No one is denying that. The simple fact is, the article did not discuss the numbers at all. What motivates companies is always going to be to minimize costs and maximize revenues.
The distance traveled by products to US markets in particular is hardly all there is to this. For one, the US is not the only market in the world. For another, if it's cheaper in spite of transportation costs, it's still cheaper. So look at the numbers, at why it's cheaper, at the state of the art in automated manufacturing, and so on, using real numbers, so the real tradeoffs can be seen.
to bring manufacture back to US.
1 thing you all can do is build a singapore style industry area. (call it thrifty city etc.)
where ppl comute with public transportation, live in high rise...
US walmart employees are striking since they can't pay for their lunch with their $1800 monthly salary, this is the true problem.
Oh, for sure US insourcing isn't the only answer. Supply chains are like elephants: slow to start up, slow to change direction, and very slow to stop. Momentum alone will keep manufacturing going in China for at least the next half decade. After that, a lion's share of manufacturing will go to even cheaper Asian countries, but some will come back to the US.
For Apple, in particular, I believe that Tim Cook has drunk too much of the China Kool-Aid and IS only insourcing for PR.
But I also think it's obvious that an increasing amount of people view synergistic local manufacturing enabled by cheap ubiquitous robotics as the New, New Thing.
"What motivates companies is always going to be to minimize costs and maximize revenues."
And that virtually always involves:
1: Finding ways to externalize costs such as pollution
2: Finding ways to pay less than living wages, so that your workers's basic needs have to be subsidized by government
3: Finding ways to buy regulations favorable to you and bad for your competition
4: Finding ways to latch onto the government teat directly by demanding cash or other goodies for not moving just across the border
And btw, "companies" do not have motivations. Managers do. And what motivates them is grabbing as much money as they can, as fast as they can. This often has only minimal connection of what is in the best interest of the company they are running, which in turn has little connection to what is best for society due to the all of the reasons I mentioned above.
There is precisely zero reason to believe that managers' decisions and society-wide optimization are at all related, given all of the failures of free market theory that lie between them.
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