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The Silk Road – the First Global Supply Chain

Supply Chain Management Review blog has a post by Rosemary Coates called The Silk Road – the First Global Supply Chain.

I spent the holidays on vacation in Venice and Istanbul on a mission to understand more about these two important end points on the Silk Road. Starting around 200 BC and extending 4,000 miles, the Silk Road got its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade and tea trade in exchange for spices, nuts and jewels from Europe and the Middle East.  In addition, various science and technology innovations were traded along with religious ideas and the bubonic plague.  The Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great modern civilizations.

and

Very few people actually traversed the entire Silk Road.  Mostly it was made up of agents and merchants who bought and sold goods along the way.  At major points, great bazaars opened to facilitate a meeting place for traders, such as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which still thrives today.

Our modern supply chain story – the global supply chain story is not a new story. Rather it is an incarnation of an older story. The Silk Road (and I’ve explored its rich history along the different paths for my nascent book on the Supply Chain frontiers) is a recurrent theme because it fills a human aspiration – the social aspects of what it means to be human.

But take note, there was a heyday of the Silk Road and eventually it fell into ruin before it was reincarnated. Nothing in our Global Supply Chain story is permanent and this too shall pass when it comes under undue strain but the enormous benefits gained by individuals (rather than kingdom and the elites in the story of the Silk Road) this time round would be a profound loss.

Which brings me to my blog point – When Americans rue the loss of jobs to China, I doubt that what they’re really saying is that they’d like those jobs to come back as much as they’re wishing for the days of simplicity. Or in another sense, the days of yore and for questions for which we have ready answers. Those questions have been answered – it’s time to ask new questions which open up new frontiers.

Lastly, don’t buy the idea for a second that the ideas of tomorrow are those which only college education and college educated folks are only equipped to answer. There’s more under Heaven and Earth than can be found in the enclaves of academia.

Why Apple makes iPhones in China and Why the US is screwed?

Two recent articles, one being the retelling of another, delve into some of the reasons why Apple makes iPhones in China and by implication not in the USA. The original article was from the New York Times, How the US lost out on iPhone Work and the retelling was recounted in This Article Explains why Apple makes iPhones in China and why the US is screwed.

There is no article about China which doesn’t recount some of the following snippets:

When one reads about these working conditions — 12-16 hour shifts, pay of ~$1 per hour or less, dormitories with 15 beds in 12×12 rooms

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.”

“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”

“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”

That’s because nothing like Foxconn City exists in the United States.

The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day.

And lastly,

The answers, almost every time, were found outside the United States. Though components differ between versions, all iPhones contain hundreds of parts, an estimated 90 percent of which are manufactured abroad. Advanced semiconductors have come from Germany and Taiwan, memory from Korea and Japan, display panels and circuitry from Korea and Taiwan, chipsets from Europe and rare metals from Africa and Asia. And all of it is put together in China.

Summarizing, Chinese firms can scale up and down rapidly i.e. they have flexibility that the Chinese government and populace are willing to allow. Something that cannot be obtained stateside in whatever shape or form. The key takeaway is that it is not only scale but the willingness and ability to go either way with it. In the US, one finds that scale is directed one way towards growth but scaling down is an arduous, acrimonious and drawn out affair if it ever happens.

So here’s the first key to Smarter Manufacturing – Flexibility and Scalability.

Revisiting the Baltic Dry Index

Periodically, I revisit the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) from time to time to get a read on economic activity as read from the volume of shipping contracted across the world. The following is a 3-year chart from 2009 onwards.

image

As you can see, the stimulus lead spurt of activity also reflected in the economy starting in early 2009 that began to peter out at the beginning of 2011. Then starting from August 2011, the index records a slight improvement in activity but nothing to write home about. While it is early to rule in an oncoming recession, it would take only the slightest worsening of the crisis in Europe to send all the economies of the world reeling once again.

No good news here. But as long as there’s no terrible news either, we slink on.

LogiCon 2012

LogiCon 2012 is Europe’s only Retail and FMCG supply chain conference, bringing together 150 senior supply chain experts, to learn from over 37 insightful sessions and 35+ thought-leaders including Carrefour, ASDA, P&G, Unilever and Puig Group. THE place where the future of the supply chain is shaped, LogiCon helps supply chain professionals develop practical techniques to improve efficiency, agility and sustainability while driving customer service and lowering costs.

7th – 9th February 2012 at Radisson Blu Hotel, Amsterdam Airport, Schiphol.

Register today at www.logiconeurope.com

About me

I am Chris Jacob Abraham and I live, work and blog from Newburgh, New York. I work for IBM as a Senior consultant in the Fab PowerOps group that works around the issue of detailed Fab (semiconductor fab) level scheduling on a continual basis. My erstwhile company ILOG was recently acquired by IBM and I've joined the Industry Solutions Group there.

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