The disruption to manufacturers worldwide from Japan’s disasters will force a rethink of how they manage production
LAST year Iceland’s volcanic ash disrupted air transport across Europe and gave the world’s manufacturing supply chain one of its biggest tests since the advent of the low-inventory, just-in-time era. Now, Japan’s quadruple disaster—earthquake, tsunami, nuclear alert and power shortages—has put the supply chain under far greater stress. Three weeks after the massive quake, the extent and likely duration of the disruption are still unclear.
去年冰岛的火山灰扰乱了整个欧洲的航空运输，为世界制造供应链自低库存和及时成产时代以来提供一个最大的考验。 现在，日本的四个灾害——地震，海啸，核警报和电力短缺已使供应链处在更大的压力下。 在大地震发生三星期后，破坏的范围和可能的持续时间海不清楚。
There are some enlightening similarities between the shocks that manufacturers are now suffering and those that buffeted the banking system in the 2008 financial crisis. In both cases two of the biggest surprises were the unexpected connections the crisis uncovered, and the extent of the contagion. The problems began in a seemingly well-contained part of the system—subprime mortgages in the case of finance, in manufacturing’s case a natural disaster in an economic backwater—but quickly spread.
在制造厂家所遭遇的冲击和2008年金融危机中银行系统中连受打击的人之间是有一些受人启发的相似之处的。 在这两种情况下，最让人惊讶的是未保险的危机和污染范围的意想不到的联系。 这些问题始于系统中一个看似完全包含的部分—— 金融中的次级抵押贷款，在经济停滞中的制造商所经历的自然灾害，但很快蔓延开。
Like the sudden evaporation of liquidity that the banks experienced, factories are finding that parts that had always turned up reliably have stopped coming. As with financial regulators’ discovery of how poorly they understood the “shadow banking” system and arcane derivatives contracts, manufacturers are discovering how little they know about their suppliers’ suppliers and those even farther down the chain. When Lehman went bust, other banks struggled to measure their exposure because Lehman turned out to be not a single institution but a tangle of many entities. Assembly firms are now finding that their supply chain looks much the same.
银行资金如液体挥发般突然不见，工厂发现一只稳定到货的零部件竟然停止供应。 至于金融监管机构，他们发现他们对于“影子银行”系统和晦涩难懂的衍生品金融品合同的理解是如此肤浅，制造商们发现他们对供应商的供应商及下边的供应链知之甚少。 当雷曼破产，其他银行努力衡量他们的暴露出的问题，因为雷曼兄弟不是一个单独的机构，而是许多缠绕的实体。组装公司现在发现他们的供应链看起来是一样的。
Just as some financial institutions proved “too big to fail”, some Japanese suppliers are now revealed to be too crucial to do without. For example, two firms, Mitsubishi Gas Chemical and Hitachi Chemical, control about 90% of the market for a specialty resin used to bond parts of microchips that go in to smartphones and other devices. Both firms’ plants were damaged. The compact battery in Apple’s iPods relies on a polymer made by Kureha, which holds 70% of the market, and whose factory was damaged.
Manufacturers around the world are now racing to secure supplies of the scarcest components and materials, pushing up their prices. Carmakers in Japan and America have had to scale back production. Toyota fears a scarcity of 500 rubber, plastic and electronic parts. It is not yet clear how much worse things will get as existing stocks run down. Nor can Japanese suppliers be sure yet of how soon they can get back up to speed: hundreds of aftershocks, some strong enough to disrupt production, have rumbled on since the main quake. Given the loss of a very large nuclear plant and shutdowns of others, power shortages may extend for years.
世界各地的制造商正在竞相争取得到稀缺元器件和材料，并提升了其价格。 日本和美国的汽车制造商不得不缩减生产。 丰田担心缺少500个橡胶，塑胶及电子零件。 若现在的库存用完之后目前还不清楚事情会变得有多糟。 日本供应商也不能肯定多久能恢复：数以百计的余震，一些强大到足以破坏生产，自从主震发生以来就一直轰轰响着。 由于非常大规模核电厂的损失和其他工厂的关闭，电力短缺可能持续数年。
Even before the extent of the disruption becomes clear, it seems certain that Japan’s disaster will have a lasting impact on how manufacturers manage their operations, says Hans-Paul Bürkner, boss of the Boston Consulting Group, who was in Tokyo this week. “It is very important now to think the extreme,” he says. “You have to have some buffers.”
波士顿咨询集团老板Hans-Paul Bürkner（本周呆在东京）说即使在破坏的范围变得清晰以前，似乎可以肯定，日本的灾难将对制造商管理业务方面产生持久的影响，他说。 “现在考虑这种极端情况是非常重要的，你必须有一定的缓冲期。”
Over the past decade or so the just-in-time concept of having supplies delivered at the last minute, so as to keep inventories down, has spread down the global manufacturing chain. Now, say economists at HSBC, this chain may be fortified with “just-in-case” systems to limit the damage from disruptions.
For instance, suppliers who have near-monopolies on crucial parts and materials may be pressed to spread their production facilities geographically. Their customers may, as a precaution, also switch part of their orders to smaller rivals. Hiwin, a Taiwanese firm with 10% of the market for “linear motion guides”, used in industrial machines, may gain share from customers of Japan’s THK, which dominates the market with a 55% share and which faces power cuts, suggests CLSA, a stockbroker.
Assembly firms will be under the same financial pressures as before to keep their inventories of supplies down. So a new growth industry may emerge from the crisis: that of holding and maintaining essential stocks on behalf of manufacturers.
Industrial firms, having spent years becoming ever leaner in their production techniques and, in the process, making themselves more vulnerable to these sorts of supply shocks, will now have to go partly into reverse, giving up some efficiency gains to become more robust. One consolation is that their problem of “too crucial to do without” suppliers looks a lot easier to solve than the conundrum of the “too big to fail” banks.