By Joe McBeth, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Jabil
In today’s digitally driven marketplace, the importance of efficient supply chain management becomes more obvious. The world is getting much smaller and the food you eat, the car you drive and the mobile device that holds your world together have increasingly complex global supply chains. Few products, if any, have single geography supply chains.
Raw materials may come from one region, with sub-assemblies built in another and often shipped to the consuming geography for assembly to lower cost and create flexibility. The United States is the fifth largest exporter of rice in the world, and those supply chains serve 120 different countries. It doesn’t get simpler than rice. Simply put, the world runs on a global supply chain.
Although many products look like their supply chains are unique and independent, very few are. This lack of knowledge obscures the risks inherent in an increasingly linked and integrated global economy. At an increasing pace, the lack of understanding of the interdependent global supply chains creates negative business impacts that are often hard to fix once they have occurred. It is a great way to learn about your supply chains but very expensive.
You may believe that the electronics and resin in your infusion pump are safe—as the supplier only manufactures healthcare products—but, you are likely competing with manufacturers of cars, phones and even toys. I’m consistently surprised by the number of companies that focus and invest heavily to make their factories incredibly efficient only to have them sit idle while they wait for a 10-cent part.
Often business leaders are focused on what is happening locally or within their own industry and not calculating the impact other geographies and industry will have on their own.
When the original iPad launch went beyond expectations, it was a nightmare for everybody else dependent on the same suppliers of passives and semiconductors (think white goods, automotive and healthcare, among others).
In the EMS business, we see every industry, appreciate the significant overlap between sectors and innately plan around these global market forces. It is the nature of our business to think globally or fail.
In today’s landscape, your ability to manage complexity is critical and obvious, but those that do not focus on creating speed throughout their supply chains are destined to become the “smartest” failures. It is no longer just about knowing, it is about knowing before others do and reacting before the problem is common knowledge. Simply put, supply chain management intelligence and speed can make or break your company.
“Change is the only constant” seems to be a consistent mantra, but with one exception: today it happens much faster. And the best way to win the speed game is to start before anyone else. But in order to “go faster,” you need to be aware of the market dynamics impacting global supply chain management.
In Jabil’s Global Supply Chain Trends survey, participants listed a diverse set of market forces:
- Increased demand
- Higher labor costs
- Supply constraints
- Rapid technology transitions
- Increased commodity pricing
- Global trade and tariff uncertainty
- Labor shortages
- Supplier consolidation
These eight global supply chain challenges complicate things. Keep in mind that some of these forces have been in place a long time, whereas others are just emerging.
Here’s what they mean and how they impact supply chains worldwide:
1. Demand Expansion
Consumer demand for electronics has been fueled by global economic growth. While generally slowing compared to 2018, GDP in 2019 is continuing to rise in developed economies like the United States, Japan and Europe, as well as developing countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China, according to the International Monetary Fund.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) finds mainstream hold, there is increasing demand for more connected devices, wireless technologies and data centers, just to name a few.
The expansion of the IoT into new value steams within industries like healthcare and industrial products as well as the increasing content with industries like automotive, simply translates into an increasing demand for many electronic commodities. There really is no need for “new products” to increase the demand, just legacy products with new technology like continuous glucose monitoring and autonomous cars. As a result, the electronics market continues to outgrow the global economy.
2. Higher Labor Costs
Another factor driving the pricing and availability issues of recent years is the long-term increase in labor expenses in China, a key electronics manufacturing region. Nearly half of the Jabil survey participants said that higher labor costs were impacting their company’s global supply chain.
China’s average annual wages rose by nearly 63 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. The long-term impact of China’s one-child-per-family policy has created a slowdown in population growth and a decline in the workforce, resulting in rising wages and labor costs.
The Chinese government predicts that the total available workforce in China—which stood at 900 million people in 2017—will likely drop to 700 million by 2030. As a result, companies with manufacturing operations in China need to keep this top-of-mind as they expand the assembly of their product lines as part of their global supply chain.
3. Component Supply Constraints
The years 2017 and 2018 saw electronics demand dramatically outstrip supply, causing lead times for commodity devices like capacitors, resistors, diodes, transistors and memory to stretch as long as 60 weeks.
On the supply side, the shortage was spurred by insufficient growth in component capacity and production. These component shortages have made a drastic impact on global supply chains. According to Jabil’s Global Supply Chain Trends survey, 93 percent of product brands say global sourcing and materials issues have impacted their company in the last year. Some of those impacts include:
- Smaller profit margins (46 percent)
- Pass-on price increases to customers (42 percent)
- Delays in production delivery or time-to-market (42 percent)
Global sourcing issues, unfortunately, have translated into direct financial impact as well. Six out of 10 participants said that their companies have seen losses of more than $50 million, with two out of 10 saying their companies experienced $100-$500 million in losses.
Jabil’s procurement intelligence team is forecasting that the current supply and demand cycle for automotive-grade and legacy ceramic capacitors could take up to four years. This poses a potent challenge for long lifecycle industries like healthcare.
Component suppliers line up their investments toward new technology. Therefore, those industries relying on legacy technology (and those that have relied on their balance sheets to combat shortages) will no longer be able to do that as more and more suppliers discontinue older technology production. Industries like healthcare, which have historically relied on legacy products, are forced to join the digital revolution. And they finally are!
4. Rapid Technology Transitions
Makers of several critical components are shifting their manufacturing resources away from low-margin legacy parts and toward more advanced and higher cost devices. As a result, legacy devices continue to be difficult to source in the memory, passive and discrete segments.
One of the most critical legacy-part shortages is in the multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCC) segment. MLCC suppliers have increased production of higher capacitance, smaller case-size parts and decreased manufacturing of older, larger less efficient products.
This means that even though MLCC supplies have improved overall, manufacturing has increased only for more advanced parts. As a result, buyers sourcing legacy MLCCs are experiencing continued tightness in supply.
What does this mean for the global supply chain? Those with more data, intelligence and speed are going to have an advantage.
If you keep track of the global markets and your company’s specific needs, you’re going to make more informed decisions than those who don’t keep a pulse on ongoing (and upcoming) trends. And those companies that use the data to not only chase old parts but to evolve their products into new technologies based on that intelligence, will reduce their supply chain risks dramatically.
5. Commodity Price Increases
A major element contributing to the constraints and price hikes of recent years was the short supplies and rising cost of raw materials, driven by broad-based global economic factors. Price increases for some of these materials have a direct impact on electronic production costs, such as gold, copper and palladium used in printed circuit boards (PCBs) and other electronic components. Suppliers of these components passed the increases on to their customers, resulting in price hikes.
In addition, commodity prices are closely tied with the automotive and consumer electronics industries. While I don’t think that’s new information for anyone, we continually see that when the market gets tight, and prices go up, there’s typically a huge reaction in the industry to manage risk. The problem is, that is the wrong time to do it.
With their prices on the rise, raw materials could quickly reassert themselves as a factor driving increased costs and reduced availability of electronic devices.
Working with a company as big as Jabil allows our customers in every industry to benefit from the company’s leverage in the buying market. In addition, we’re able to provide intelligence across markets that allow a faster and smarter response to upcoming issues. For instance, our healthcare team regularly meets with our customers to inform them of market conditions and expose the risks within the supply chain related directly to their products. More than that, a global scale like ours allows us to make recommendations to lower potential risks.
Managing risk is not a one-time event—it is perpetual. Digital tools, like Jabil’s Intelligent Digital Supply Chain, enable teams to “start the race” within the global supply chain before others. But the goal is to go beyond identifying static supply chain risk. It is to show predictive lifecycle risk beyond just supply and demand into competitive technologies in the market by domain. Our role is to mitigate risk today and into the future.
6. Global Trade and Tariff Uncertainty
Trade tensions added to the magnitude of the recent shortage by adding to global economic uncertainty. Jabil survey participants listed trade and tariff implications and reducing supply chain costs as their top business and technology challenge in 2019, followed closely by technology adoption to improve business outcomes.
A quick resolution of the global trade issues could lead to increased certainty among business leaders, buyers and increased purchasing activity.
The value of an intelligent global supply chain tied to a well-positioned global manufacturing network allows a balance between cost and risk and allows speed, should you need to migrate your business due to these uncertainties.
7. Labor Shortages
The outdated perception that global supply chain management is still primarily a low-paying purchasing job prevents many young professionals from considering it as a career. The fact that only a handful of universities offer appropriate courses and most of them are in the United States compounds this issue. As a result, there is a global shortage of qualified individuals ready to step into such roles today.
A graduating engineer envisions a career in manufacturing more often than in supply chain. In reality, companies like Jabil employ entire teams of engineers to help manage its supply chain. It’s a skill set that is in very high demand.
Managing the supply chain is increasingly becoming a career track in big companies today, involving professionals with job titles such as director of finance – supply chain or advanced purchasing engineer, all the way up to the C-Level with Chief Procurement and Chief Supply Chain Officers. Anyone holding a role with commercial acumen can create a very successful and rewarding career in supply chain.
8. Supplier Consolidation
Another factor behind the shortages of 2017 and 2018 was the significant wave of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity that swept through the semiconductor industry. The M&A spate has resulted in a high degree of concentration of market share among leading firms, with the top-20 semiconductor suppliers now accounting for 74% of the global chip market, up from 64% in 2015.
The merger mania has also reduced the number of suppliers participating in the electronic components market, cutting into the availability of parts and changing the leverage amongst all competing buyers.
The consolidation trend has continued in 2019, highlighted by Infineon’s $10 billion acquisition of Cypress Semiconductor; NXP’s purchase of Marvell’s WiFi connectivity portfolio; ON Semiconductor’s buy of Quantenna and Nvidia’s acquisition of Mellanox.
In addition, consolidation has a lot to do with specialization and trying to retain and protect margin. Suppliers are moving away from commodity products and teaming up to create more specialized answers and invest in specific industries or products.
This will continue to reduce the industry’s investments into new production, leading to further supply constraints as demand starts to return to normal levels. Due to this increased risk, it’s critical to understand the supply base and its strategic/technology direction both collectively and as independents.