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SCDigest Expert Insight: Supply Chain by Design

About the Author

Dr. Michael Watson, one of the industry’s foremost experts on supply chain network design and advanced analytics, is a columnist and subject matter expert (SME) for Supply Chain Digest.

Dr. Watson, of Northwestern University, was the lead author of the just released book Supply Chain Network Design, co-authored with Sara Lewis, Peter Cacioppi, and Jay Jayaraman, all of IBM. (See Supply Chain Network Design – the Book.)

Prior to his current role at Northwestern, Watson was a key manager in IBM's network optimization group. In addition to his roles at IBM and now at Northwestern, Watson is director of The Optimization and Analytics Group.

By Dr. Michael Watson

December 11, 2012

Should You Source from China or the US? Why Not Both?

Inventory Formulas Help You Determine the Total Landed Cost of Making in the US vs China, Shipping Air vs Sea, or Determining the Correct Dual Sourcing Strategy

Recently we’ve heard more stories about companies moving production back to the US—Apple and GE are the two big examples. This is on top of the coverage of chemical plants being built in the US to take advantage of cheap natural gas.

Dr. Watson Says:

A dual sourcing strategy gives you the low cost benefits of a China plant and the safety stock benefits of a US plant.
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The stories are often presented as an either-or decision.  And, often, when supply chain managers do an analysis, it is an either-or decision.   

As a quick reminder, a good analysis includes the total cost of making the item at both locations.  The easy (but not trivial) part of the total cost includes raw material, labor, energy, transportation, management costs, and duties and tariffs.   In general, these costs tend to favor China. 

A good analysis also includes the cost of inventory.  Inventory cost tends to favor the US.  To calculate inventory costs, you feed standard inventory formulas such factors as the excepted demand, demand variability, average lead time, lead time variability, minimum order sizes, and service levels.  For some products, you may be able to reduce lead time from China by shipping with air services.  So, this would give you two options in China- air and sea.

Now you have the total cost of producing in the US vs China.  This is often referred to as the total landed cost. 

To implement, you typically don’t just pick the lowest cost option.  You also want to consider other factors such as risks, management overhead, marketing image, intellectual property, ease of product design and so on.   If China is cheaper by $10,000, these other factors could sway the decision in favor of the US.  If China is cheaper by $10 million, you would probably find a way to mitigate these other factors.

Up to this point, we’ve described the “either-or” analysis.  Either you make in the US or you make in China. 

But, it doesn’t have to be either-or.  Some firms use another strategy—dual sourcing.  This can be better than the “either-or” strategy.  Professors Allon and Van Mieghem from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management have formalized this strategy in several papers and projects. The main idea

Columns by Dr. Watson

Supply Chain by Design: Four Lessons from Hau Lee's Green Car Story Updated for the Era of Machine Learning

Supply Chain by Design: Profitability of Your Assets Depends on how you use Them

Supply Chain by Design: The Most Overlooked and Underestimated Data in Supply Chain Design

Supply Chain by Design: Self Driving Trucks May Create New Roles and New Types of Jobs

Supply Chain by Design: Why Driverless Trucks May Create the Need for More Drivers

Supply Chain by Design: A Non Obvious Way Self Driving Trucks May Impact Your Network Design Strategy

Supply Chain by Design: How You Should be Using Multi-Echelon Inventory Tools

Supply Chain by Design: You Don't Need the Optimization in Multi-Echelon Inventory Optimization

Supply Chain by Design: On Network Modeling - Blaspheming the Baseline

Supply Chain by Design: Profit Maximization Feature and Amazon’s Focus on Lead Time to Grow Revenue

Supply Chain by Design: Using Profit Maximization to Minimize Cost

Supply Chain by Design: Two Big Reasons You Don't Want to Maximize Profit in your Supply Chain Model

Supply Chain by Design: You Can Set Inventory Levels and Other Such Myths

Supply Chain by Design: Six Organizational Issues in Tactical Inventory Planning

Supply Chain by Design: Four Things Nick Saban Can Teach us About Inventory Planning

Supply Chain by Design: Seven Ways You Can Think About Christmas Capacity to Avoid Having the Press Blame Your Supply Chain for Missed Deliveries

Supply Chain by Design: Machine Learning and High Quality Potato Chips

Supply Chain by Design: Simple Models to Solve Complex Fast Delivery Problems

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Five Take-Aways on Natural Gas Trucks from the AB InBev and Owens Corning Talk

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Six Insights from LLamasoft and JLL

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Five Supply Chain Design Lessons from Benjamin Moore and How One is Used by Amazon in their 1-hour Delivery Service

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Two Supply Chain Design Lessons from Starbucks CEO

Supply Chain by Design: Four Groups that Need to Step Up to Help Make Network Design More of a Profession

Supply Chain by Design: Top Four Best Practices for Multi-Objective Optimization

Supply Chain by Design: Caesars Entertainment's Customer Data is Worth $1B - How Much is Your Supply Chain Data Worth?

Supply Chain by Design: Using Transactional Data to Estimate Truckload Market Conditions in Near-Real-Time

Supply Chain by Design: Routing Optimization is Hard: Lessons from UPS

Supply Chain by Design: Eli Goldratt's Book "The Goal" is on Jeff Bezos (Amazon) Reading List

Supply Chain by Design: Top Five Rules for Cleaning Data for a Strategic Analysis

Supply Chain by Design: Network Design and Accounting Data

Supply Chain by Design: Sears Case Study - Same Day Delivery

Supply Chain by Design: Three Ways UPS and FedEx Handled Christmas 2014

Supply Chain by Design: Deepen Your Optimization Knowledge Over the Holidays with Free E-book

Supply Chain by Design: Calculating Supplier Lead-Time Variability - Not as Easy as It Seems

Supply Chain by Design: The Myth of the Market Rate and Network Design Projects

Supply Chain by Design: Three Ways the Supply Chain Wastes Big Data

Supply Chain by Design: Three Supply Chain Lessons from the book Scaling Up Excellence

Supply Chain by Design: What to Do About the Rise in Costs Because of the Trucker Shortage

Supply Chain by Design: Modeling Your Competitors

Supply Chain By Design: Just Because the Feature Exists, Doesn’t Mean You Should Use It

Supply Chain by Design: Just Because People are Talking about Big Data Doesn’t Mean it is Clean Data

Supply Chain By Design: Can Western Manufacturing Be Saved: What Does it Mean to Your Firm?

Supply Chain By Design: Optimized Baseline and the "Perfect" Network Design

Supply Chain By Design: Become more Analytics-Driven to Recruit Talent

Supply Chain By Design: Step Up Your Preventative Maintenance with Predictive Analytics

Supply Chain By Design: Demystifying Stochastic Optimization

Supply Chain By Design: More on Big Data in the Supply Chain

Supply Chain by Design: Should You Extend Your Network Design Capability with a Map Portal?

Supply Chain by Design: A New Trend in Network Design: Flow Path Modeling

Supply Chain By Design: Top 5 Skills You Need in a Supply Chain Modeler

Supply Chain By Design: Comment on Biggest Supply Chain Planning Technology Challenges

Supply Chain by Design: Beyond the Square Root of N Rule

Supply Chain by Design: UPS's Christmas Problem Explained in One Graph

Supply Chain By Design: Your One Network Design New Year's Resolution

Supply Chain By Design: 80/20 Rule for Supply Chain Design

Supply Chain By Design: What Makes a Good Inventory Buffer

Supply Chain by Design: Some Things Do Not Change: Cost and Service Trade-Offs with Air Shipments

Supply Chain By Design: The Impact of Natural Gas Trucks On Your Supply Chain Design and Capabilities

Supply Chain By Design: Controlling Inbound Transportation with Inventory

Supply Chain by Design: Three Types of Supply Chain Buffers

Supply Chain by Design: Systems Thinking and the "Limits" of Optimization

Supply Chain By Design: 3D Printing and Robotics - Disrupting the Dominant Supply Chain Model

Supply Chain by Design: Future Supply Chain- Airships and the Physical Internet

Supply Chain By Design: Avoiding Capital Investments - A Hidden Benefit of Network Design

Supply Chain by Design: Three More Reasons the Impact of the New Hours of Service Rules May Not Be So Drastic

Supply Chain By Design: Three Ways to Handle the Lag Time from Modeling to Implementation

Supply Chain By Design: Three Quick Steps for Analyzing Big Data

Supply Chain by Design: What is Big Data?

Supply Chain By Design: Using Optimization to Compare Facilities or Internal Benchmarking

Supply Chain By Design: Four Steps for Thinking About An Optimization Problem

Supply Chain By Design: Don't Let the Term "Optimization" Become a Buzzword

Supply Chain By Design: Supply Chain Models Can Go Wrong - A Different Perspective

Supply Chain By The Numbers: Top Three Ways Supply Chain Models Can Go Wrong

Supply Chain By Design: Supply- and Demand-Centered Modeling: A Follow Up to 2013 Priorities

Supply Chain By Design: Three SCDigest Predictions You Should Be Modeling

Supply Chain by Design: Cost to Serve Modeling

Supply Chain By Design: Top Five Models You Should Build in 2013

Supply Chain By Design: Should You Source from China or the US? Why Not Both?

Supply Chain By Design: Same Day Delivery and Network Design

Supply Chain By Design: Political Supply Chain and Network Design

Advanced Analytics in Supply Chain - What is it and is it better than Non-Advanced Analytics?

of this strategy is that you source a steady and consistent base amount (75% to 90%) from China and then use the US plant for the rest of demand and for any unexpected rises in demand or delays from China.  By dual sourcing, you get the cost advantage of China and the safety stock advantage from the US plant.   This strategy also mitigates risk by having two sources of production but comes with the extra cost of having to produce in two places.

Final Thoughts

When deciding where to make products, there is no single correct answer that applies to all products. Since you have data on every product and the inventory calculations are readily available, you can develop a unique sourcing strategy tailored to each product.

Recent Feedback

Good information.  What about Mexico playing a role in this dual role of supply chain strategy?  Mexico currently has the number 1 landed cost for US markets.

Gary Batt
Dec, 15 2012

This article explains a common dilemma faced in practice today.  It is important to remember that when deciding upon a sourcing option, it does not have to result in a sole sourcing decision.  Numerous benefits are attainable with multiple suppliers in alternative locations.  Careful analysis must be made when determining sourcing locations, but it is usually more favorable to dual source due to cost advantages of overseas sourcing options, and safety stock advantages of local sourcing options.  In closing, I found this article made an excellent point in stating that every product is different, and unique strategies should be determined in designing sourcing options for individual products. 

Apr, 25 2013

When trying to decided to take advantage of the cheap labor costs of China or the more domestic friendly shipping costs of America, most companies fail to realize that they can have the best of both worlds. Enabling alternative locations for sourcing creates favorable strategic options for any company. Dual sourcing gives cost advantages with labor and shipping when dual sourcing from overseas locations, while also sourcing from a domestic site. Also there are competitive advantages instilled in the multiple suppliers who have to keep quality up or risk losing possible business to another supplier. However, this article does a good job at stating that ever product is unique and that unique strategies should be considered before deciding on where to source and how many suppliers to source from.

Nicholas Lozano
Blog Post
OM 337.3
Apr, 29 2013