Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Truckload Strong; Intermodal Weak

I have not reviewed the CASS information for a while but have used other sources which have all told the same story.  Intermodal freight is soft relative to capacity which is putting pressure on rates.  However, the September truckload numbers show strong expenditure increases with shipments staying moderate.  Translate this into higher rates.

To show the issue with the intermodal market right now look at the chart above.  Clearly, going into Q2 in both 2012 and 2013 we see the price index decrease.  However, in the latter half of 2012 it rebounded.  In 2013 it tried but quickly was rebuked.  IM rates are in check mostly due to the capacity situation.

The real question though is whether this is a short term bump (The Christmas "rush") or is this a long term trend.  My belief is to watch it closely but be skeptical of anyone who says this is a long term trend.  Hours of service or none I believe there is no evidence to show the economy picking up or shipments growing rapidly.  Yes, there are bumps up and bumps down but the trend is pretty flat.

Don't get involved in what I call the fear trade.  The fear trade is when your carrier base comes running to you as soon as some data supports higher prices and tells you to "pay up".  Watch the data closely and I think you will find this to be a blip.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

3d printing goes mainstream

As my readers know I have been talking about 3D printing for a long time and have been theorizing and brainstorming how this will impact manufacturing, supply chain and the overall method of acquiring goods.  From one of my first posts back in 2012 titled "Don't Reduce Costs - Eliminate Them" through the many others I really believe this is a major change in how goods will get to market.

And, of course, when we were first talking about this topic it appeared to many to be "Star Wars" type conversation but I will tell you it appears to be almost mainstream now.  Many at the recent Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference in Denver were talking about it.  There was even a display!

Now the question is not whether the technology will exist or even if it will be affordable but rather what are the innovative and exciting ways it can be applied.  Unfortunately, the press is all over the fact that people are making gun parts with it.  But here are some revolutionary ways this can be applied to the supply chain:

  1. Development cycle times cut dramatically:  Imagine when you can "print" prototype parts immediately and on demand as you build prototype products?  The idea of rapid prototyping  really becomes a reality and this technology drives this.  So, supply chains have to be ready for rapid deployment of new products.  Where supply chains might have had 3-5 years to plan and get ready for a new product to flow, they many now only have 6 months.  The "bottleneck" in new product development may have just shifted. 
  2. Batch Sizes decrease to just about 1:  The bane of supply chains is when you can get to 1x1 or batch sizes of one.  By nature, supply chains like huge batch sizes as this helps:
    • Inventory
    • Procurement
    • Shipping (Full shipments)
    • Receiving
    • Change overs in plants
    • Tooling and machinery
    Now the question is how will supply chains adapt to true batch sizes of one.  "Make on demand"  will be a reality and people need to be ready to deal with it. 
  3. Really small shipments:  People have always talked about the "push - pull" between reducing logistics costs by increasing shipment size (full truckloads - fullest the furthest) and the flexibility and agility of small shipments.  Most want both.  3D printing will bring a lot more demand on smaller shipments and even shipments of "one".  This will really benefit companies such as UPS and FEDEX at the expense of truckload and intermodal.  
So, the conversation has moved from "Can that really be done" to "Looks like it can be done" to "Yes, it absolutely can be done now how do we leverage and exploit the new technology. 

There are a lot more and I look forward to engaging on the other ideas which will develop.  I look forward to any comments you may have.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Energy as part of the Global Bill of Materials

If I told you there was a portion of your bill of materials which could make up 20% -40% of a major component would you want to know what that was?  I hope the answer would be yes and that element is energy.  I heard a person talk this week (A VP of a car company) talk about the "energy it takes to make a car".  The interesting part of his talk is he was not just talking about the plant where the car was assembled.

Rather, he walked all the way back to the extraction of raw materials, through the various "tiers" of suppliers, to manufacturing then to the final delivery of the finished product.  He discussed energy as a component of the BOM and therefore it needed to be managed.

In transportation, people are just now starting to look at this way and the more enlightened managers see this clearly.  If you look at the "bill of materials" for transportation, energy is about 40% of the cost.  Who would ever not manage 40% of the cost of a BOM?

Between emissions and the actual cost of energy it is clear the time is now to manage energy.  Those who say to not manage it or, worse yet, turn it over to the transportation companies just do not understand how important this element is to their costs and to the security of their supply chain.  What element could disrupt the supply chain worse than the lack of energy?

It is time to step up and take control of this and think like that speaker... thing about transportation as you would manufacturing.  Think about what the bill of materials is and what deserves your attention.  40% deserves your attention.