Author Archives: edith

Why Is the Supply Chain Still So Snarled? We Explain, With a Hot Tub (WSJ)

The global supply chain is an intricate ballet of container ships, airplanes, trucks and trains. The coronavirus pandemic threw it out of whack. This is why you often can’t buy the goods you want. Hot-tub maker Bullfrog Spas saw demand soar as homebound consumers upgraded their backyards. Yet its supply chain spans thousands of miles across continents and oceans. On a typical day, its Herriman, Utah, factory takes delivery of 40,000 gallons of chemicals, 400 sheets of plastic and up to 60,000 additional components.

Mondelēz’s Triscuit is the latest brand to embrace traceability

Mondelēz International said consumers purchasing its Triscuit brand will be able to trace the journey of the white-winter wheat baked into some of its Triscuit crackers from a co-op of farmers’ fields in Michigan to where the product is made.

The Tech Cold War’s ‘Most Complicated Machine’ That’s Out of China’s Reach (NYT)

A $150 million chip-making tool from a Dutch company has become a lever in the U.S.-Chinese struggle. It also shows how entrenched the global supply chain is.

Auto Makers Retreat From 50 Years of ‘Just in Time’ Manufacturing (WSJ)

The hyperefficient auto supply chain symbolized by the words “just in time” is undergoing its biggest transformation in more than half a century, accelerated by the troubles car makers have suffered during the pandemic. After sudden swings in demand, freak weather and a series of accidents, they are reassessing their basic assumption that they could always get the parts they needed when they needed them.

The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles (NYT)

A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green as traditional mining is one of the dirtiest businesses out there, a reality is not lost on automakers and renewable-energy businesses.

Why the World’s Container Ships Grew So Big (NYT)

For decades, shipping lines have been making bigger and bigger vessels, driven by an expanding global appetite for electronics, clothes, toys and other goods. The growth in ship size, which sped up in recent years, often made economic sense: Bigger vessels are generally cheaper to build and operate on a per-container basis. But the largest ships can come with their own set of problems, not only for the canals and ports that have to handle them but for the companies that build them.

How Toyota thrives when the chips are down

Toyota may have pioneered the just-in-time manufacturing strategy but when it comes to chips, its decision to stockpile what have become key components in cars goes back a decade to the Fukushima disaster. After the catastrophe severed Toyota’s supply chains on March 11, 2011, the company realized the lead-time for semiconductors was way too long to cope with devastating shocks such as natural disasters. It came up with a business continuity plan (BCP) that required suppliers to stockpile anywhere from two to six months’ worth of chips for the Japanese carmaker, depending on the time it takes from order to delivery.

In Suez Canal, Stuck Ship Is a Warning About Excessive Globalization (NYT)

The world got another warning this week about the perils of its heavy reliance on global supply chains. As a single ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, shutting down traffic in both directions, international commerce confronted a monumental traffic jam with potentially grave consequences.

America’s Covid Swab Supply Depends on Two Cousins Who Hate Each Other (Bloomberg)

Only two companies in the world make the nasopharyngeal swabs, which are used for COVID tests: Copan Diagnostics Inc. in northern Italy and a small, family-owned business in Maine called Puritan Medical Products Co. The swabs are highly specialized devices requiring precise manufacturing in proprietary machines to meet the strict regulatory requirements of hospitals. No other companies could quickly step in.

NXP could lose $100 million due to weather shutdown of Austin plants

NXP Semiconductors could lose $100 million in revenue from the shutdown of its Austin chip-making operations due to last month’s winter storms. Its two Austin fabrication plants are back up and running nearly a month after they lost power during statewide outages when sub-freezing temperatures swept across the state. A number of Austin’s largest industrial power users – including NXP and Samsung –were ordered by the city to idle or shut down their operations the week of Feb.15. The semiconductor companies had power restored last month, but have not been operational for weeks following the shutdown. Samsung, which is the biggest electricity user on Austin Energy’s power grid, has not yet resumed full operations at its Austin fabrication facility – a situation that industry experts say could be costing the technology giant millions of dollars.

Even Garbage Is Using Blockchain Now

Pilot projects that use innovative data collection to encourage recycling and responsible waste management are underway in Argentina, India and the U.S.

Everywhere You Look, the Global Supply Chain Is a Mess (WSJ)

Supply chain woes mounted world-wide for makers of everything from cars and clothing to home siding and medical needle containers, as the extreme Texas weather and port backlogs compounded problems for manufacturers already beset by pandemic disruptions.

Chaos Strikes Global Shipping (NYT)

Around the planet, the pandemic has disrupted trade to an extraordinary degree, driving up the cost of shipping goods and adding a fresh challenge to the global economic recovery. The virus has thrown off the choreography of moving cargo from one continent to another.

Biden orders a review of US supply chains for vital goods

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday intended to boost manufacturing jobs by strengthening U.S. supply chains for advanced batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semiconductors. “It’s about resilience, identifying possible points of vulnerabilities in our supply chains and making sure we have the backup alternatives or workarounds in place.”

Consumer Demand Snaps Back. Factories Can’t Keep Up. (WSJ)

Supply chains typically get beaten up during recessions. As sales decline, companies draw down inventories to conserve cash instead of purchasing more parts and materials. Entire pipelines of supplies get cleaned out. When demand improves, even modestly, suppliers respond with an outsize increase in production to restock empty warehouses and assembly plants. The so-called bullwhip effect ripples all along supply chains, generating unusually large orders for suppliers that are far from end customers. This time, the bullwhip effect is even more pronounced because demand for consumer products has been extraordinarily high. At the same time, companies are placing supersize orders to compensate for the extra time it takes to procure supplies from factories and freight operators constrained by global efforts to contain the coronavirus. That’s exacerbating the strain on supply chains.

Apple Is the $2.3 Trillion Fortress That Tim Cook Built (Bloomberg)

Cook’s global supply chain greatly improved upon the fabrication approaches that Dell and Compaq had developed. The big PC brands often outsourced both manufacturing and significant design decisions, resulting in computers that were cheap but not distinctive. Cook’s innovation was to force Foxconn and others to adapt to the extravagant aesthetic and quality specifications demanded by Jobs and industrial design head Jony Ive. Apple engineers crafted specialized manufacturing equipment and traveled frequently to China, spending long hours not in conference rooms as their PC counterparts did but on production floors hunting for hardware refinements and bottlenecks on the line.

Contract manufacturers worked with all the big electronics companies, but Cook set Apple apart by spending big to buy up next-generation parts years in advance and striking exclusivity deals on key components to ensure Apple would get them ahead of rivals. At the same time he was obsessed with controlling Apple’s costs.

Why vaccine production is taking so long (Axios)

COVID-19 vaccine makers are under intense pressure to rev up production, but the scale of the challenge is unprecedented — and the speed of production is limited.

Behind AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Stumble (WSJ)

A production problem at a single factory in Belgium has delayed tens of millions of doses destined for Europe, endangering the continent’s already-slow inoculation drive and representing the greatest threat so far to Dr. Soriot’s extraordinary pledge last year to vaccinate the world—and do so for no profit. After disclosing the European problem, the drugmaker now says it has been troubleshooting similar production issues in recent weeks as far away as the U.S. and Australia.

Lack of Tiny Parts Disrupts Auto Factories Worldwide (NYT)

Strong demand for gaming systems, personal computers and other electronics by a world stuck indoors has sucked up supplies of semiconductors, forcing carmakers around the world to scramble for the chips that have become as essential to mobility as gasoline or steel.

Firms Want to Adjust Supply Chains Post-Pandemic, but Changes Take Time (WSJ)

The coronavirus pandemic snarled the world’s sprawling supply chains for months, shutting factories, disrupting shipping and making it difficult for companies to get products from factories to consumers. Now, many companies are considering changing the model to avoid future product shortages and transportation delays, even if it might increase costs. Some are looking at moving production closer to home. Others are considering spreading small factories around the world instead of putting all their manufacturing in one place. There is little evidence of a big shift so far, given the costs and the uncertainty. But surveys and interviews with corporate executives show some have started to make changes and many are seriously considering them, though consultants say the moves could take several years to roll out.