📦 A Soap Maker Cracks the Code to ‘Made in America’
Bath & Body Works decided it needed to get new products to market more quickly. The result was a production initiative with little parallel in corporate America.
Now every step of production occurs at plants just feet from each other on the company’s dedicated “beauty park” on the outskirts of Columbus. One factory makes the foaming pump and mechanism. Another makes the bottle itself, a third makes the label, a fourth makes the soap, fills the bottle, attaches the label and screws on the top. A fifth packages it. Getting a bottle to distribution is down to 21 days and a few miles. A majority of Bath & Body Works products, which are sold in its own stores, are made on site.
One challenge to replicating BBW’s model is that factories don’t operate in bubbles, but rely on networks of suppliers, parts and expertise—and moving those networks is costly. Once such a network has been established, it tends to get stuck there. Semiconductor manufacturers and raw steel producers require massive upfront investment and economies of scale. The BBW model is better suited to exploiting economies of scope, in which a manufacturer produces a variety of products. Bath & Body Works can roll out around 7,000 new scented products a year.
🏭🏗️ America Is Back in the Factory Business
New factories are rising in urban cores and rural fields, desert flats and surf towns. Much of the growth is coming in the high-tech fields of electric-vehicle batteries and semiconductors, national priorities backed by billions of dollars in government incentives. Other companies that once relied exclusively on lower-cost countries to manufacture eyeglasses and bicycles and bodybuilding supplements have found reasons to come home. Richard Branch, chief economist of the Dodge Construction Network, which tracks building projects, said that industry, along with EV battery companies, accounted for nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing construction starts in 2022, as measured in square footage.
Stanley Black and Decker Inc.’s chief executive, Donald Allan Jr., has also lauded the benefits of automation in U.S. plants. “You’ve gone from a situation where if you did a power tool assembly in China or Mexico, you might have 50 to 75 people on a line,” he said during a September investors event. “The automated solution that we’ve created in North Carolina, current version, has about 10 to 12 people on that line because of the high level of automation, and the 2.0 version looks like it’s going to get down to two to three people on the line.”
NBC Detroit: Fictiv CEO Dave Evans on Automative Manufacturing in America
Mexico’s Industrial Hubs Grow as Part of Trade Shift Toward Nearshoring
“Being able to hire enough people at our U.S. plants to support our growth was a real challenge. That was a major interest for us to open up a facility in Mexico,” said Sam Rosen, president of Ollin Plastics, the plastic molding unit of Minnesota-based ATEK Companies.
Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie dolls and Mega Bloks, expanded its Monterrey plant into its largest manufacturing facility worldwide with an investment of $47 million between 2020 and 2022. The toy maker more than doubled its workforce to 3,500 at the plant as part of a global supply-chain restructuring to boost output and productivity, with immediate access to the U.S., the world’s largest toy market, said Roberto Isaias, Mattel’s chief supply chain officer. The company exports toys from Mexico to nearly 30 countries.
As demand for industrial space picks up, insufficient electricity infrastructure is limiting the speed at which manufacturers can move into Mexico, said Alberto Villarreal, managing director of Chicago-based Nepanoa, which does project management and consulting for U.S. companies setting up or expanding in Mexico.
Manufacturing in America, post-globalisation
Why The U.S. Fell Behind In Phone Manufacturing
Why digital sourcing platform Fictiv stays in China when others are leaving
Despite challenges around COVID restrictions and geopolitics, “the China manufacturing base is not going away,” said Fictiv’s founder and CEO Dave Evans in an interview with TechCrunch. “Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a fishing village, and now it’s the center of the world for manufacturing. It’s going to take a while for other ecosystems to really catch up,” he said, adding that Apple and its contract manufacturer Foxconn have offered a strong playbook for a generation of factory owners in the country.
“Because it’s so hard to access China in the last years, the value we have in combining software, technology and all the AI that we built with boots on the ground right next to our manufacturing partners has built a really compelling offering for all customers because they can’t fly to China,” said the CEO. The firm has built a global network of 250 vetted manufacturing partners, a third of which are in China, where production capacity is often larger. The rest of its suppliers are from India and the U.S. To date, Fictiv has produced some 20 million parts for thousands of customers. It runs a team of just over 300 employees around the world.
Reshoring boom behind the surge in machine tool demand
There’s been a definite shift from focusing purely on price to having to balance a range of factors. Global lockdowns and factory closures meant a lot of UK companies couldn’t fulfil orders because they couldn’t source components or materials. I believe that situation helped open people’s eyes. Towards the end of 2021 and into 2022, we saw a lot of our OEM clients gear up to bring parts and volume manufacture back to their UK businesses. The biggest issue with UK businesses wanting to invest in more machine tools isn’t financial or having enough work, it’s skills.
Schneider, Deere Investing $76M in Reshoring Projects
Executives with Schneider Electric and Deere & Co. will invest tens of millions of dollars to expand factories in Kentucky, Nebraska and Louisiana—with Deere’s move shifting some production work to the United States from China. Schneider will put to work a total of $46 million at plants making circuit breakers and other electrical output products in Lexington, Kentucky, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The investments will include new equipment and machinery that will be more automated and technologically connected than the plants, which are 65 years and 50 years old, respectively, are today. Deere’s Louisiana plans call for the maker of agricultural and construction equipment to invest nearly $30 million to grow its operation in Thibodaux, west of New Orleans. That facility today designs sugar harvesting and earthmoving equipment and makes a range of products but will grow in the next two years to also produce medium-chassis cotton harvesters now being built in China.
Can Robots Fix Inflation, Supply Chain and Labor Issues? Singapore Thinks So
Daikin to wean itself off Chinese-made air conditioner parts
Japan’s Daikin Industries plans to establish a supply chain to make air conditioners without having to rely on Chinese-made parts by March 2024, as the manufacturing sector grows increasingly wary of China’s strict zero-COVID policy.
Since the pandemic triggered a global shortage of semiconductors, Daikin has been devising ways to ensure the stable procurement of parts, such as by sharing inventory information among its production bases in each country and developing alternative products. This experience will enable it to cut reliance on Chinese producers.
Furthermore, supply chains for air conditioners are comparatively easy to rebuild as only 3,000 parts are needed in their production, a tenth of that required for automobiles. While moving away from Chinese-made parts will result in an increase in procurement costs, Daikin sees it as security against future emergencies.
Delivering the US manufacturing renaissance
A strong manufacturing economy unlocks important employment and advancement opportunities—a factor set to grow in significance if current job market pressures ease. Manufacturing is the main economic engine and primary employer in around 500 US counties today, and in those communities, the industry employs a broader-than-average swath of the overall population and does so more inclusively. In most cases, employees don’t need four-year degrees, and they can earn twice as much as those holding equivalent service-sector jobs, as employers invest in upskilling and reskilling their current workers by offering expanded learning opportunities. Our analysis suggests that reviving manufacturing could add up to 1.5 million jobs, particularly among middle-skill workers, which would help recalibrate the US labor market and bolster the middle class.
Any reinvigoration of US manufacturing will also require reinvention. Around the world, companies are taking a fresh look at the paradigms that have dominated the industry’s evolution for decades, with the aim of making manufacturing more sustainable, more digital, more skilled, and more resilient.
How Singapore Got Its Manufacturing Mojo Back
In courting factories like this, Singapore has become a rare wealthy country to reverse its manufacturing downturn. The city-state had faced industrial decline, with World Bank figures showing manufacturing falling to 18% of gross domestic product in 2013, from 27% in 2005. Then manufacturing made a comeback in Singapore, rising to 21% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. Singapore government data shows manufacturing made up 22% of its GDP in 2021.
Right to re-print: What role could 3D printing have in right to repair?
Where the volumes are right or a redesign beneficial, the case for AM can be made but for many parts, traditional methods of manufacture are still the way to go. Reeves recalls a visit to the warehouse of one of Europe’s largest white goods spare parts suppliers almost a decade ago. An analysis of the millions of SKUs on-hand was conducted but Reeves concluded “you could literally count on one hand the ones that were viable 3D prints.”
“The ‘right to repair’ legislation is likely to cause logistical headaches for manufacturers globally who face having to stock hundreds of thousands of spare parts,” Dickin said. “However, the law could also finally move the dial in reversing the “throwaway society” trend of the last 60 years by creating goods that last longer - producing savings for both the consumer and environment.
Regional vs. global manufacturing
A French Sneaker Maker Grapples With How to Bring Production Home
After 15 years of manufacturing entirely in Asia, French sportswear firm Salomon SAS, eager to cut emissions and reduce bottlenecks, decided it was time to start making its signature sports shoes at home. The challenge, in a country where shoemaking died out years ago, was how to build the necessary supply chain.
The Changing Geopolitics Of Manufacturing And Its Supply Chains
Manufacturing is many things. Producing advanced electronics is not the same as making shoes. Nonetheless, whenever something is produced, infrastructure of some kind is involved. Hard infrastructure, such as factory networks requiring sunk cost investments in high technology takes too long to develop. Soft infrastructure like supplier relationships may look easy to reproduce, but these can be tricky to evolve as they form organically. For example, try competing with the fashion production chain in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region (the subject of the 1984 book The Second Industrial Divide, which argued we should abolish standardized mass production for a system of flexible specialization.)
Regionally dense supplier networks have always been a good idea. Collaboration is better face-to-face, or geographically proximate because skills tend to develop in clusters. Whatever the top skill in a region is becoming the priority for young talent. Consequently, this creates a positive feedback loop, and it is also more practical. Whether it is Northern Italy, the auto industry in the US upper midwest (see Automation Alley), New England’s high tech manufacturing hub, or Shenzhen’s hardware production networks, Shanghai’s automotive sector, or emerging Chengdu in southwestern China, which now deserves to be known for far more than “producing” Pandas, manufacturing tends to concentrate geographically. Disruptions are not the only reasons they are back in the big leagues.
Reshoring can be argued logically based on total cost of ownership. The reshoring movement also has an obvious nationalist rationale. Nation-states compete for attention and resources, but within their own borders, they redistribute (somewhat) fairly. Manufacturing is a source of great pride, so globalization has always been limited in scope and theory. Globalization, on the contrary, has no democratic infrastructure. Fairness is therefore up for grabs.
Smart factories drive Korea SMEs to reshore overseas plants
The digitalized facility cut production costs by an average of 15.5%, raising productivity and quality by 28.5% and 42.5%, respectively, according to the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. Companies with the plants added 2.6 employees on average and reduced industrial accidents by 6.2%.
“It is urgent to increase productivity per capita by upgrading to smart factories since the falling working-age population is weakening the manufacturing sector’s competitiveness in the mid to long term,” said Noh Min-sun, a research fellow at the Korea Small Business Institute. Local SMEs see the system as a solution to cope with risks from the global supply disruption, the COVID-19, surging commodity prices.
Mexican manufacturing: so far from EU, so close to US
Kearney’s US Reshoring Index (April 2021) shows that many US manufacturing executives perceive nearshoring to Mexico or Canada as even more advantageous than reshoring to the US. The index also noted that US manufacturers will specifically strive to reduce dependence on China for manufacturing, another positive sign for nearshoring operations to Mexico. Since 2020, Covid-19 related supply chain disruptions have caused many US companies to take steps to bring some of their manufacturing closer to home.
The US pharma market is the largest worldwide. There is a great incentive for North American countries to trade with each other (and promote nearshoring, given lower overhead costs) since the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the US, came into force in July 2020. At the same time, the US has had trade disputes with a major pharma exporter, China, in recent years. Many of the world’s largest pharma companies already operate facilities in Mexico, and nearshoring could increase international investment further.
Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt
But sewing has been notoriously difficult to automate, because textiles bunch and stretch as they’re worked with. Human hands are adept at keeping fabric organized as it passes through a sewing machine. Robots typically are not deft enough to handle the task.
SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.
SoftWear calls its robotic systems Sewbots. They are basically elaborate work tables that pair sewing machines with complex sensors. The company zealously guards the details of how they work, but here are the basics: Fabric is cut into pieces that will become parts of the shirt: the front, the back, and the sleeves. Those pieces are loaded into a work line where, instead of a person pushing the fabric through a sewing machine, a complicated vacuum system stretches and moves the material. Cameras track the threads in each panel, allowing the system to make adjustments while the garment is being constructed.
COVID-19 Drives Industry 4.0 — and Reshoring
Resiliency concerns revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic are driving both reshoring and digital transformation. A realignment of priorities towards risk mitigation, agility, responsiveness and faster time-to-market are encouraging companies to shorten supply chains and reshore; 47 percent of small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) are reevaluating supply chains.
To be cost-competitive, domestic manufacturers are looking to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies to close the labor price gap. New technologies are a game changer in achieving U.S. competitiveness and reshoring.