Supply Chain Matters and other supply chain focused media has called specific attention to the current wave of mergers and acquisitions impacting the global logistics sector. Yet, it is quite important that supply chain leaders pay close attention to the motivations of such actions, as well as the implications related to providing more one-stop services. Incorporating a logistics provider as an extension of complex and often changing supply chain business processes comes with an expectation that such a provider has the asset, process and technology enabled capabilities that can accomplish the job and meet operational milestones and performance measures.
The Wall Street Journal recently noted that there have been 10 major acquisition deals totaling $18 billion since early 2014. The most notable have been the recent XPO Logistics acquisition of Conway Way, FedEx’s acquisition of GENCO and Bongo International as well as TNT Express, and UPS’s acquisition of Coyote Logistics. Once more, there are strong indications that this trend will continue.
The primary reasons are that globalization, increased process complexity and impacts of online and Omni-channel fulfillment are motivating more and more firms to seek one-stop services or to outsource various value-added logistics processes. In essence, the third-party logistics (3PL) logistics business model is fundamentally moving toward the termed fourth-party logistics (4PL) model. Many supply chain and logistics professionals recognize the 4PL model as one that provides an extension of the customer’s current business process needs, including the integration of information and technology systems. However, the misnomer is that many 3PL’s who have shied from significant investments in technology and processes now look to acquisitions to quickly gain such capabilities.
But alas, the ability to be an extension of a customer’s business processes presents its own challenges, even for the largest and most savvy logistics providers.
The Wall Street Journal published a report indicating how aircraft jet-engine producer Pratt & Whitney’s production was stalled nearly a month because of issues at a UPS logistics center. (Paid subscription). Pratt had contracted with UPS to streamline its manufacturing processes and ramp-up production levels of its newly designed aircraft engine. Readers will recall that that Pratt’s new and more fuel efficient engine will power new aircraft models including the Airbus A320 neo. Pratt’s current customer booking stands at 7000 orders.
A UPS logistics center would receive parts from various Pratt engine suppliers and package them into kits holding 8000 parts and ship them to various final assembly production facilities. According to the report, the logistics center was beset with problems when it first opened in July that slowed Pratt assembly operations to a crawl. Kits were received with what was described as dirty, damaged or missing parts, prompting Pratt production workers scrounge among multiple kits to find a full complement.
Pratt and UPS quickly assembled dedicated teams to address these process start-up issues that included additional training as well glitches in inventory tracking software. The problems are now reported as resolved but Pratt’s production levels in August nearly came to a crawl.
Pratt’s parent is United Technologies and its CEO indicated to the WSJ: “It’s the ramp. The technology, I’m very confident we’ve got that right. But you’re only as good as your worst supplier. When you’ve got 8,000 parts in an engine, one of those parts aren’t there, you’re not building an engine.”
Pratt had turned to UPS to eliminate low-value work and avoid holding extensive inventory on its own books. The engine producer has a unionized work force and the WSJ report indicates that union members were not all that pleased with this new arrangement. Pratt transferred management of parts and inventory to an automated UPS warehouse system.
The Pratt story is somewhat of a typical example of what is currently driving the logistics industry today, along with the challenges for becoming the extension of an existing manufacturing, supply chain or customer fulfillment business process. The fact that a provider the size, scope and resources of UPS initially stumbled is indeed an indicator that beyond business growth through acquisition, the logistics industry has to concentrate on added technology and information integration capabilities.