Lots of Orders Out There—If You Can Fulfill Them
This is not a scientific survey, but a handful of interviews at last week’s MD&M/Plastec East 2021 show at the Javits Center in N.Y.C. yielded a consistent impression: Business in plastics is booming, but also beset by problems experienced by businesses nationwide—balky supply chains, higher costs for raw materials (and everything else), and acute worker shortages. Despite those hindrances, all of those I spoke with enjoyed revenue gains in 2020 and are looking at another growth year in 2021.
John Carpenter, director of sales and estimating for C&J Industries, Meadville, Pa., sums up today’s paradox: “Business is great … but how much product can we get out the door?” (Photo: Plastics Technology)
Mold shops are extremely busy, said one toolmaker at the show. But now they have to contend with tighter availability of stainless steel.
One medical molder that uses a lot of liquid silicone rubber has skirted the acute shortage of that material by making those products in China, which is a major source of LSR raw material. But that molder still struggles daily to fill gaps in its staffing. “People just don’t want to work,” said a manager of that firm. “And right now they have enough government assistance to stay home.”
A conversation with one custom injection molder crystallized for me a picture of the woes that are weighing down otherwise soaring business prospects.
John Carpenter is director of sales and estimating for C&J Industries in Meadville, Pa. His plant has 58 injection presses from 20 to 720 tons and serves medical, pharmaceutical, telecom, consumer and industrial markets. On the one hand, he said, “A lot of customers are starting to buy again after a COVID-induced slowdown. Orders are through the roof.”
Sounds great, but: “We’ve seen 24-week lead times for materials and force majeure situations on some of them. We had used 40,000 lb a week of one material, but now we’re allocated only 16,000 lb. And prices have more than doubled.”
But that’s not the most pressing problem on his mind today—not because the supply issues have abated, but because labor problems have grown more acute.
“We have had a spike in COVID cases in our area, so some people are forced to stay home in quarantine, and some are afraid to come to work. And some of those who have remained on the job are feeling burned out.”
Meadville is a town of around 13,000 residents. It has five major manufacturers competing for labor, Carpenter noted. “The nearest larger city is Erie, 45 minutes away … nobody around here wants to commute 45 minutes.”
Where does all that leave C&J Industries? “Business is great—our forecast is up 30%. But the question is, how much product can we get out the door?”
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