OEMs, beware: Foxconn is coming for you.
No, not just to buy your components, build your boards and run your logistics. Foxconn is coming for your data, your markets, and your customers.
We’ve been sounding the alarm about this for years. It’s not healthy for your primary supplier to be bigger than the nearly the entire rest of the market. Foxconn, pushing $150 billion in revenues, is as large as the next five EMS/ODMs combined, and more or less as large as numbers 7 through 500.
The 2016 buyout of Sharp could be chalked up to a desire by Foxconn to nab a key technology and supplier to Apple, it’s top customer. The just-announced deal for Belkin, however, coupled with its foray into developing 5G computing and cloud platforms,, suggest a drive to higher margin, branded products. Foxconn’s revenue is larger than almost everyone of its customers, and a new plan to issue $50 billion worth of stock could give it the capital it needs to go on a massive acquisition spree.
For years we’ve been told that EMS companies are in the service business only and would never develop their own products. In one of the first interviews I did, back in late 1991, then IPC director Tony Hilvers — a leading proponent of the then-emerging CM industry (it wasn’t even called EMS then; that term was coined by Sue Mucha the following year) — insisted to me that contract assemblers wouldn’t go down the product development and branding path because it would put them in position of competing with their customers.
We can bury that old saw. With today’s news that Foxconn has, at long last, bought Sharp (for the low, low price of $3.4 billion), the loop between EMS and OEM has been drawn taut.
Not that this is ground-breaking in practice. Certainly, many, many EMS companies have, through acquisition or otherwise, developed and marketed their own products. Our 2009 EMS Company of the Year had a healthy, branded keyboard product line. And we estimated in this space in 2012 that 15 to 20% of the (then) 2,400 companies listed in our EMS directory did some degree of ODM/OEM work.
Going further, we wrote in 2015 we felt the line between EMS and ODM has been “permanently crossed.” But the Foxconn-Sharp marriage takes it to an entirely different scale.
Whether the Sharp name stays on its product lines, which range from Aquos televisions to smartphones to solar panels, and includes the OLED technology so prized by Apple that it compelled Foxconn to write the check in the first place, remains to be seen.
Either way, there’s no going back. EMS is now OEM. Going forward, who is the customer they will serve? And knowing the line keeping their suppliers from their end-customers has been permanently breached, will this spur OEMs to reestablish their assembly operations?