Factors That Led Up To and Continue To Influence the Plastics Shortage
Unlikely and unanticipated, the March 2020 arrival of COVID-19 devastated industries worldwide. Raw materials scarcity, supply-demand imbalance, and delivery disruptions that were initially thought manageable are omnipresent more than two years after the fact — and there’s no reasonable end in sight.1
Undoubtedly the pandemic set manufacturing on a rocky path. Like all other markets, the plastics industry is not exempt from its impact regarding
- Supply and demand: Production shutdowns and, later, raw materials inaccessibility due to supply chain disruption are key contributors to the supply-demand imbalance in commodity plastics, and materials needed for value-added services, such as rubber and steel for insert molding
- Price volatility: Fluctuating polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) prices remain problematic, as does the availability and surcharging of highly engineered resins containing glass fibers, flame retardant properties, or UV additives
- Logistics: Difficulties in moving materials between countries has only intensified the inability to distribute them throughout the market. A lack of shipping containers, port bottlenecks, ground transportation stoppages, and the struggle to find adequate numbers of dock and trucking workers exacerbate supply chain delays and disruptions
However, several other factors have come into play since the initial COVID-19 complications that are keeping recovery at bay:
- Rampant hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and American Gulf Coast nearly ceased hydrocarbon extraction and processing
- Winter Storm Uri effectively shut down large portions of the state of Texas and 80% of all U.S. resin production in February, 2021
- The outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war met with severe economic sanctions, including the U.S. ban of oil imports from Russia which pushed up plastics prices and further complicated shipping since Ukraine is a major manufacturer of wooden pallets
As it stands now, manufacturers that rely on plastics and injection-molded parts are in an indefinite holding pattern. As one problem appears to be righting itself, another negates progress.
Solutions for Manufacturers
However, turbulent times do not denote inaction. Manufacturers simply have too much at stake — customers, marketshare, profits.
Keying into and leveraging the expertise of injection molding partners can reveal several strategic opportunities for manufacturers to overcome the challenges of an industry in disarray.
Short term strategies
The most immediate solution to raw materials unavailability is identifying replacements. It seems simple enough on its face, but plastics or resin grades aren’t necessarily interchangeable.
What alternatives exist for nylon, acetal resins, polysulfone (PSU), polyphthalamide (PPA), polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), polyphenylene oxide (PPO), and syndiotactic polystyrene (SPS)?
Collaborating with an experienced injection molder is the surest way to answer the question. In addition to expertise in plastics selection, a molder familiar with the needs of complex applications will have processes in place for:
- Qualifying alternative materials using Design for Manufacturability (DfM) Analysis to find suitable substitutes based on properties, behaviors, and performance as well as compatibility with existing tooling
- Testing alternative materials by producing and trialing physical sample parts to verify the characteristics of the proposed plastics perform as anticipated
Identifying alternative materials is typically the first step in problem-solving, but it’s far from the last. Again, injection molder partnerships play an important and collaborative role in helping manufacturers:
- Source early from several potential providers, based on the molder’s existing relationships
- Streamline materials management by acting as a central point of contact and routinely disseminating information to manufacturers and other interested parties
- Protect injection-molded part quality by testing and approving more than one plastic so other solutions are readily available in the event a specific plastic doesn’t meet standards
Establishing a Global Supply
The unpredictability of the supply chain crisis can lead to unpleasant surprises. To avoid costly missteps, manufacturers are wise to work with an experienced injection molder to develop a global supply strategy to mitigate regional supply disruptions.
The key is getting molders involved early in the production process, when their expertise and vision can best influence outcomes. As a preferred injection molder for global industries, Kaysun proactively assumes responsibility for pivotal roles in the global supply approach, including:
- Supply chain mapping that creates transparency around supplier network contributors, vulnerabilities, and risks
- Clear, timely, and ongoing communication with plastics suppliers and manufacturers to ensure informed decisions are made throughout the process