Selection of Alternate Resins as a Supply Chain Hedge
To say the past 18 months have been challenging to manufacturing would be a severe understatement. Friends of mine outside of manufacturing are suddenly wanting to be educated on this “thing called supply chain.” Like every other industry, molding requires a complex symphony of activity in order to have the right materials in the right place at the right time. Supply chains for resin are very mature, and normally securing resin is not a big deal.
Recently however, resins have been extraordinarily challenged, and there are a few primary drivers:
• Precipitous reduction in demand in early 2020 due to COVID-19, requiring suppliers to shut down lines.
• Significant increase in demand in later 2020 and early 2021 as the economy opened up and demand came back. Feedstock/ resin production could not make up the gap for the lost time and have been largely operating in a deficit since then.
• Inclement weather in Texas took out feedstock supplies, putting inordinate strain on material suppliers globally.
Disruptions are expected to continue well into the second half of 2022, but is there anything engineering can do to put your company in the best position to not be subjected to material shortages? The answer is yes – with an asterisk.
Material selection that aligns mechanical and thermal properties to application performance requirements is paramount to a successful product launch. Engineers like to use resins they have used successfully before – “marrying” themselves to certain grades. Although this makes for short qualification, it also exposes a weakness to that type of narrow thinking – any hiccups in the supply to that material could potentially short the product. This does not have to be the case.
Below are a few ways to hedge against the risk of outage of resins for molded parts:
• Stick with mainstream resins – driven by application requirements of course. ABS, PC and Nylon have large stables of grades to choose from. Niche and most high-performance resins are generally more expensive and have fewer alternates
• If possible qualify and specify alternates in the early stages of design. Sometimes small changes to a design might open up the field of candidates sharply and allow for a broader array of materials to be considered
• Talk to your resin suppliers – the galaxy of resins is huge, and new grades (and ones that could be potentially sunsetting) coming out every week. Reps have a wealth of information on what will be happening 4-6 months from now – leverage of this knowledge.
• Get a jump on it – treat it like a long lead-time item (because it probably is) and put in orders early enough to allow for some delay. Better to sit on material for a few weeks before needing it than not be able to get it.
• Qualify grades from a smaller supplier– they use the same feedstock, so their product is 99% the same,and they often respond faster and probably have better pricing.
• Sample them all simultaneously – with a good purge in between to make sure there is no contamination between grades. Make sure they are labeled to keep them straight.
• Use UL Prospector to help narrow the field.
Good luck during this challenging time!
About East West Manufacturing
East West is a global engineering and manufacturing services company based in Atlanta, Georgia focused on the realization of products, from design through distribution. As specialists in onshore, nearshore and offshore manufacturing, we offer a seamless path to scale and an exceptional speed-to-market strategy while driving down costs and adhering to the highest quality standards. We are one integrated family, working together to support our customers throughout the entire product lifecycle. Our vision is to make the world a better place – cleaner, safer, healthier, and smarter.