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Boeing Calls Time on the Great American Outsourcing

The plane maker’s purchase of Spirit AeroSystems, a supplier it spun off in 2005, shows that the post-1980s manufacturing model went too far
飞机制造商收购了 2005 年分拆的供应商 Spirit AeroSystems,这表明 80 年代后的制造模式走得太远

2024 年 7 月 2 日上午 5:49 美东时间

Boeing has struck a deal to buy Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures fuselages for its 737 jets. Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg News
波音公司已达成协议,收购为其 737 客机制造机身的 Spirit AeroSystems。照片:David Ryder/Bloomberg 新闻

Spirit AeroSystems is going full circle, from part of Boeing BA 2.58%increase; green up pointing triangle to independent supplier and back to part of Boeing. It is the perfect example of a realization dawning on corporate America: Outsourcing isn’t all it was once cracked up to be.
Spirit AeroSystems 正在走一条完整的循环路线,从波音公司的一部分变成独立供应商,再回到波音公司的一部分。这是一个让美国企业意识到的完美例子:外包并非曾经被吹捧的那么美好。

On Monday, Boeing said it would buy the Wichita-based aircraft-fuselage maker in an all-stock deal valuing it at $37.25 per share, a 13% premium over last week’s closing price. It seems like a good deal for Spirit’s investors, who have suffered a 53% negative total return since the end of 2019—worse than Boeing’s negative 42%.
星期一,波音表示将以全股票交易方式收购总估值为每股 37.25 美元的位于威奇托的飞机机身制造商,溢价 13%,高于上周收盘价。对于自 2019 年底以来遭受 53%负总回报的 Spirit 投资者来说,这似乎是一笔不错的交易,比波音的 42%负回报更糟糕。

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The pandemic hit to jet production was particularly devastating for Spirit, which accumulated $2.6 billion in losses between 2020 and 2023. This year, analysts expect net income to come in at minus $681 million. Its quality-control lapses—including goofy ones such as badly drilled holes—have in turn been a headache for Boeing, which is under severe pressure from lawmakers and customers following the blowout of a 737 MAX-9 door plug in January.
疫情对喷气机生产的打击对 Spirit 来说尤为毁灭性,该公司在 2020 年至 2023 年间累计亏损 26 亿美元。分析师预计,今年净收入将达到负 6.81 亿美元。其质量控制失误,包括一些愚蠢的错误,比如钻孔不当,反过来给波音带来了麻烦,波音在 1 月份 737 MAX-9 门插销爆裂事件后受到立法者和客户的严厉压力。

Spirit said it would sell a chunk of its business to Airbus, resolving the problem posed by 19% of its revenue coming from Boeing’s rival.
Spirit 表示将一部分业务出售给空客,解决了其 19%收入来自波音竞争对手的问题。

The deal’s logic of vertical reintegration makes sense in light of recent history, with air-travel safety likely benefiting from centralized supervision and a simpler workflow between plants. Yet it is also an indictment of what executives in most industries have been doing for almost three decades.

When Boeing sold its Wichita and Tulsa operations to Canadian private-equity firm Onex in 2005, creating Spirit, aviation was still recovering from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The IT revolution, together with the rise of consultants and business schools, had made outsourcing fashionable. Before the late 1980s it was unusual: Even convenience-store chain 7-Eleven was vertically integrated with its own milk-producing cows and candy manufacturing.
当波音在 2005 年将其威奇托和塔尔萨业务出售给加拿大私募股权公司 Onex,创立了 Spirit 时,航空业仍在从 9/11 恐怖袭击中恢复过来。IT 革命以及顾问和商学院的兴起使外包变得时尚。在 20 世纪 80 年代后期之前,这是不寻常的:即使是便利店连锁店 7-Eleven 也是与自己的生产奶牛和糖果制造业纵向整合的。

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How will the acquisition of Spirit AeroSystems help Boeing? Join the conversation below.
收购 Spirit AeroSystems 将如何帮助波音?在下方加入对话。

Then, in 1989, Eastman Kodak pointed the way by tasking IBM with managing its data center. In 1996, General Electric showed how offshoring support jobs to low-wage countries such as India could help cut costs. Supply chains spread across the world: The share of imported value in U.S. manufacturing exports rose to a peak of 20% in the late 2000s, from 13% in the mid-1990s.
然后,1989 年,东曼柯达通过让 IBM 负责管理其数据中心指明了方向。1996 年,通用电气展示了将支持工作外包到印度等低工资国家如何有助于降低成本。供应链遍布全球:美国制造业出口中进口价值的份额从 1990 年代中期的 13%上升到 2000 年代末的 20%的峰值。

Renegotiating labor agreements was one rationale for an independent Spirit, and it broadly succeeded. The other was to gain economies of scale by selling to more manufacturers, which never worked as well.

At the core of the outsourcing trend, however, was the idea that an “asset-light” firm focused on intellectual property and its “core” expertise would be better run.

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With this mindset, jettisoning aerostructures operations seemed like a no-brainer. It is a capital-intensive, competitive business that faces a lot of production pressure from final assembly—not unlike the jet-engine business but with narrower gross profit margins. Over the years, many of Spirit’s peers have either closed down or been taken over. In 2018, Britain’s GKN was bought by Melrose Industries.
有了这种心态,放弃航空结构业务似乎是一个不用多想的决定。这是一个资本密集型、竞争激烈的行业,面临着来自最终装配环节的许多生产压力,与喷气发动机业务类似,但毛利润率较窄。多年来,Spirit 的许多同行要么关闭,要么被收购。2018 年,英国的 GKN 被 Melrose Industries 收购。

It wasn’t just aerostructures: In the 2000s, Boeing outsourced more than 70% of the 787 Dreamliner program. But the problems with becoming an assembler of planes, as opposed to a true manufacturer, gradually became apparent. The company lost control of supply, resulting in years of delays and cost overruns.
这不仅仅是航空结构:在 2000 年代,波音公司将 787 梦幻客机项目的 70%以上外包。但成为飞机装配商而非真正的制造商所带来的问题逐渐显现。公司失去了对供应链的控制,导致多年的延误和成本超支。

Airbus followed Boeing’s lead, including with the 2009 carve-out of its two aerostructures subsidiaries, Premium Aerotec and Stelia Aerospace. It was perhaps lucky to find no good buyers. Now, Airbus also sees aerostructures as essential again.
空客效仿波音的做法,包括 2009 年将其两家航空结构子公司 Premium Aerotec 和 Stelia Aerospace 剥离出去。也许幸运的是没有找到合适的买家。现在,空客也再次将航空结构视为必不可少的。


Aerospace isn’t the only industry to revive vertical integration. Intel is beefing up chip manufacturing in the U.S., General Motors is building battery plants and Sweden’s IKEA is acquiring containerships.

One general flaw of the asset-light model is that, over time, firms can lose their innovative edge because a lot of “learning by doing” happens when production processes interact. Another is that low-margin bits of the supply chain get worn down to just a few sources. These may not have the financial muscle to make big investments in times of turmoil, or they may be geopolitically sensitive. Such risks were underscored by post-Covid shortages, particularly in the largely “fabless” U.S. microchip industry, which has outsourced chip making to foundries in East Asia in a way that echoes what happened to aerostructures.

Spirit’s round trip back to Boeing was borne of desperation, yet it captures the zeitgeist.

Write to Jon Sindreu at jon.sindreu@wsj.com
请写信给 Jon Sindreu,邮箱地址为 jon.sindreu@wsj.com。

Corrections & Amplifications

Boeing purchased Spirit AeroSystems. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the company in one instance as Spirit AeroSystem. (Corrected on July 2)
波音公司收购了精神航空系统公司。本文的早期版本在一处错误地将该公司称为精神航空系统公司。(已于 7 月 2 日更正)


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