Moneymanagement’s Weblog

Manufacturing outsourcing is no longer viable

Posted in economics by moneymanagement on September 5, 2008

Unlike services, manufactured goods involve a phsical presence and a logistic cost. Mckinsey reports,


For executives managing global supply networks, the question now is whether or not conditions are moving toward a tipping point. Is this the moment to consider sharply scaling back offshore production plans and bringing manufacturing back or close to the United States? Is there a more measured response that better suits the new circumstances? Before executives change their strategies, however, they must determine the total landed cost of each product produced offshore and better understand the shifting trade-offs between cost savings from offshoring (such as lower wages) and rising logistics charges.

Oil prices, and consequently the cost of shipping, have risen to heights few foresaw even just several years ago. Since 2003, crude oil has soared from $28 to more than $100 a barrel. The economics research institution CIBC World Markets estimates that in 2000, when oil prices were near $20 a barrel, the costs embedded in shipping were equivalent to a 3 percent tariff on imports. Today, that figure is 11 percent—meaning that the cost of shipping a standard 40-foot container has tripled since 2000.

To develop a clearer picture of the changing environment, we analyzed a number of products manufactured for the US market and mapped the optimal region to manufacture them by straightforwardly comparing the wage savings from offshoring with the cost of logistics. Exhibit 2 shows the optimal regions for products with a range of different unit manufacturing costs (all related to the transformation of raw materials into one unit of finished goods in US dollars) and various product weights (which affect logistics costs). We have chosen breakeven curves for China, a traditional low-cost manufacturing location, and for Mexico, a near-shore location.

As an illustration, we studied the total landed cost for a midrange server, comparing scenarios in Asia and the United States (Exhibit 3). Five years ago, in 2003, manufacturing this product in Asia rather than the United States provided a 60 percent savings in labor costs. We have indexed that labor savings to $100. When we calculated total landed costs, however, we found that 36 percent of those labor savings were offset by freight, shipping-related charges, inventory, product returns, and other hidden costs. That gave Asian production a $64 landed-cost advantage. Today, economic conditions have reversed it. After factoring in the higher labor and freight costs, we find that the former offshore savings have turned negative—a burden of an extra $16. The labor savings, $100 in 2003, are now only $45 because of wage inflation. In addition, freight costs have risen by $21 and product returns by an additional $4 because of higher oil prices.


As these examples suggest, changing economic conditions may have undermined your supply chain advantage. This may be an appropriate moment to reevaluate the location of your manufacturing facilities. Take the total landed-cost analysis to the next level of detail and determine if bringing some production back home or to near-shore locations will help counterbalance the higher costs of shipping and freight. At the same time, consider the long-term geographic distribution of demand for your products. In rethinking your global supply chain, you must carefully evaluate the importance of speed, the availability of skilled talent, the potential for further productivity gains in Asia, one-time transition costs, the local import and tax implications, and organizational interfaces.


3 Responses

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