European contract logistics providers are signing more contracts. The market in western Europe grew by 6.7 percent in 2006 to reach EUR 49 billion, according to Transport Intelligence's most recent report, European Transport and Logistics Markets 2007.
Some of the highest growth rates were in the Nordic region, where Finland in particular has benefited from increasing trade with Russia and is well on its way toward positioning itself as a gateway to fast-growing markets in the East.
Expansion in more developed markets, however, was slower. In Germany, low domestic demand resulted in below-average growth despite buoyant imports and exports.
Contract logistics market drivers in Spain were reversed, with strong domestic consumption making up for relatively low levels of international trade, reports the UK-based think tank.
France's contract logistics sector, by contrast, outperformed its overall logistics market as a result of an increase in outsourcing and demand for more value-added services. The Netherlands benefited from global trade due to its popular location for European distribution centers, although domestic demand was weak.
The report also finds no evidence to suggest that the UK's strong affinity with the contract logistics sector will end soon. Above-average growth was strongly influenced by robust international logistics activity, but domestic demand growth also played a role.
"On the whole, it was another strong year for the contract logistics industry in Europe," reports John Manners-Bell, chief analyst at Transport Intelligence.
"Most countries experienced solid growth, with markets at the periphery of the region enjoying the most significant development, albeit from a smaller base."
The world's manufacturing community is alive and well and tipping the scales of optimism over the industry's long-term prognosis, according to TBM Consulting Group's fifth-annual Multinational Manufacturing Pulse report.
More than half of manufacturer respondents (56 percent) are optimistic about the year ahead and see many opportunities to gain market share through value chain improvements.
Not to get ahead of themselves, just as many companies (59 percent) are concerned about cost pressures and their impact on overall productivity.
The survey polled 3,082 executives from mid-sized to large firms in six major manufacturing countries in the western hemisphere—the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil.
While executives surveyed in the United States, the UK, Mexico, and Spain are optimistic about the future of manufacturing and envision many opportunities, respondents in Germany and Brazil are not as hopeful and expect more challenges in the coming year.
When asked to identify the greatest opportunities in the year ahead, manufacturers felt most optimistic about "value chain improvements" (70 percent), "new product development/innovation" (49 percent), and global market expansion, business improvement programs, and human capital (38 percent, respectively).
In thinking about the future, more than half (62 percent) of all manufacturers identify "cost pressures" as the main challenge for 2008, superseding concerns about "rising energy costs" (11 percent) and "quality issues" (23 percent).
Additionally, more than one-third of respondents cite "people issues" as a potential source of angst over the next year.
"While cost pressures are always on the minds of manufacturers, this year's survey reveals a heightened concern," says Anand Sharma, CEO of TBM Consulting Group.
"To compete in the global economy, leaders in these countries are under increased pressure to find innovative ways to manage the cost of doing business. By concentrating on value chain improvements, companies can sustain profitability and become nimble at responding to changes and opportunities in the marketplace."
The majority of manufacturers (91 percent) report productivity gains over the past year and identify lean process improvement as the leading source of increased efficiency.
Conversely, nearly one-third of survey respondents point to a "lack of innovative thinking" as the greatest obstacle to increased productivity, with 72 percent reporting they are "somewhat satisfied" with their company's level of innovation.
Critical to pushing forward process improvement initiatives is empowering the workforce with necessary resources and motivation.
"The value of human capital to an organization should not be underestimated or overlooked. There should be continuous awareness of the state of the workforce and its level of engagement, empowerment, and integration," says Mike Serena, managing director, TBM LeanSigma Institute.
"Today, a toolbox full of techniques in the lean factory can activate and compel workers. By encouraging all workers to think, eliminate waste, and find ways to contribute and add value, companies will be able to create a compliant, fully engaged workforce."
Time is relative unless you ship or receive time-sensitive goods. Inevitably the challenges of coordinating and streamlining offshore delivery centers with stateside distribution networks can cause major headaches for companies trying to manage product recalls, shaky service-level management, or process immaturity.
One way to alleviate these growing pains is by better aligning and timing where companies locate offshore facilities.
Global businesses are beginning to recognize the importance of interspersing locations across the three major time zone windows—the Americas, EMEA, and Asia—according to a recent report by AMR Research, Time Zones Do Matter: Rediscovering the Americas and Nearshore Delivery.
Among the advantages to this "divide and conquer" global approach:
- Nearshore dramatically reduces the risks associated with offshore, as dispatching and managing tasks in the same time zone can often be more forgiving.
- Geopolitical and operational risk diversification is key in an ever-changing global climate.
- Nearshore and remote domestic delivery are best suited for serving the broadest possible array of corporate functions.
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) recently removed and replaced the turntable locomotives use at the Gatun locks without interrupting Canal operations.
A stronger, more maneuverable installation was put in place to improve locomotive operations and frequency, and increase the locks' capacity.
The turntable renovation comes as the Canal embarks on the first-ever expansion of its waterway infrastructure.
The project, which endeavors to build an additional lane of traffic along the Panama Canal with a new set of locks, will double Canal capacity to more than 600 million Panama Canal tons and accommodate more volume and longer, wider ships.