There is an interesting article in Supply Chain Digest about bringing back offshore work. Some companies are rethinking their global product strategies. The article mentions the rising costs in China, the threat to intellectual property and the need for more flexibility. In my experience working with US companies, this is not yet a trend. Companies outsource for a number of reasons. For some, manufacturing is not their core competency. They want to focus on product development, sales and marketing and not manufacturing. Others certainly outsource to reduce cost. Unless their workforce is willing to take a pay decrease, like GE employees did in Louisville, KY, companies have more of an advantage by outsourcing. The savings allows U.S. companies to stay afloat and expand in a highly competitive global market. There are many debates about outsourcing currently due to the high unemployment rates in the US. Some will argue that steps need to be put in place to incent companies to keep jobs in the US while many economists argue that outsourcing increases wealth in the economy and more measures need to be put into place to educate and insure unemployed workers when looking for new employment. Outsourcing does become a commitment. There will always be times when the outsourcing company wants to bring work back from their partner. This is especially true when there is still some level of manufacturing within the outsourcing company. They are sensitive to capacity utilization and capital investment and it is natural to want to maintain a steady rate within their own facility. This however does not represent the mature outsourcing model. Companies that have been outsourcing for years have a valued partnership with their contract manufacturer. (By the way, I hear so many terms for this! Contract Manufacturer, CM, EMS, TPM, CMO !! It would be nice to standardize! ). These companies provide their partner with a steady flow of work, keeping costs down for their CM. Key to the relationship between the outsourcing company (let’s call them the OEM) and the CM is the ‘open book’. This means sharing information with the end goal being a win/win relationship. Information used to be very protected years ago. Now, there is an emergence of trust. I think this is largely due to technology and the software available now to easily share data and collaborate between systems. The high tech OEMs have been outsourcing for a number of years and with good success. The life sciences OEMs are entering this business model a little later but at increasing levels. There is a significant amount of complexity in the life sciences industry with regulatory adherence and inventory expiry but with the right processes and software they can also be very successful. In the end, outsourcing becomes a corporate decision. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer as long as the company remains globally competitive.
To outsource or not outsource…that is the question
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