Phonebloks Model Unblocks Supply Chains

Tushar    November 2, 2013


Phonebloks is a great new design idea for mobile phones that does away with existing brands and aims to have an open-source supply-chain platform.  Millions of mobile phones are thrown away each year for one reason: mobile phones are not designed for repairs or upgrades. The new idea is to have the mobile phone that can be built in a modular fashion, block by block,  where the end user decides what components are required in the personal design. Each block consists of an essential feature of the phone.It is an idea that sought to support 500 people went viral with a million supporters!

Phonebloks has found Motorola’s support in this project.  Entrepreneurs, manufacturers, investors are trying to understand the supply-chain that would make Phonebloks. Motorola calls this Project Ara and their advanced Technology and Products group is working with Phonebloks creator Dave Hakkens on modelling it. Motorola’s Paul Eremenko said that they are opening the process up to the community and volunteers to begin designing hardware modules. Their goal is to create an equivalent of Android in the mobile hardware space. The supply chain will constitute of a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem thus lowering  the barriers to entry, increasing the pace of innovation and substantially compressing development timelines.

Gawin Dapper, CTO of Phonebloks says that reduction of E-waste is a key objective of their mobile-phone project. Their mission is to help “create a better and more sustainable world” by bringing back re-usable parts into the supply-chain by trading them through a marketplace.  “In case a part is broken beyond repair, recycling and using biodegradable hardware should be a realistic alternative”, he said.

Will this idea see the light of the day? There are a number of challenges that exist in the modular idea of Phonebloks as the supply-chain to manufacture it needs a complete re-design. Each individual component of Phonebloks can be procured in new ways and not limited to a single brand. The supply chain of manufacturing and building each branded phone is unique to the brand and an extremely complex process.

While there is public excitement for the new phone as seen by the number of followers in social media there is a lot of skepticism over its design, price and creating the supply-chain. In fact, the video ‘Phonebloks – the next step’ states that every stage of the phone’s development will be open-sourced across the supply chain.

Motorola has demonstrated leadership in this space as it has already brought the concept of Moto X – a smart phone that they claim is ‘designed by you’ in partnership with Flextronics – a supply-chain contract manufacturing company that constantly strives to unblock supply chains and making them more efficient. It is a perfect scenario for Motorola to partner with Phonebloks as they explore innovation in their supply-chain.

Let’s examine a couple of social media based supply chain technology products in the market today and determine if the upcoming Phonebloks concept is feasible. Using social collaboration tools various players in the supply-chain can all stay in much closer communication and eliminate many of the barriers caused by working in vastly different time zones. The social supply chain is simply a supply chain in which participants use today’s social platforms to collaborate.

One example is the new social supply chain functionality by Demand Management Inc., a leading global resource for supply chain management solutions. The technology is designed to help manufacturers and distributors shave cycle times off such core activities as sales and operations planning using social media technology.

Another example is E2open that recently announced its Social Supply Chain initiative, a plan to integrate social technologies into the E2open Business Network. This helps companies increase revenue and lower operating costs through improved supply chain responsiveness.

These are trends are in line with leading technology companies that are offering solutions in Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud. The social supply-chain collaboration will challenge the current models of employees working in today’s organizations.

Key learning:

1) There are new kinds of supply chains that will get created using social media due to bold new product ideas such as Phonebloks. Virtual teams will get connected right from product design to supply-chain sourcing in a whole new manner.

2) Large corporates, such as Motorola in this case, who have contracted companies such as Flextronics, are examining ways to unblock their supply-chains with new ideas.

3) Social supply chain functionality is a trend that is being pioneered by both  upcoming technology organizations and large technology organizations.


Submitted by: Tushar Goteti, SMBP Student, University of Waterloo.

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