Southern Texas is the hub of the US’ supply of speciality chemicals and petrochemicals; the basis of plastics used to manufacture everything from water bottles to pill coatings. So, when Storm Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in 2017, companies within the US and worldwide were affected. For example, the close of company Arkema alone resulted in the loss of supply of 50% of the US’ supply of ethylene and polyethylene, and 40% of its chloralkaline and polyvinyl chloride.
When the availability of materials can be cut drastically short at a moment’s notice, how can companies be prepared to respond?
Secure a drop-in replacement
One way is to secure a drop-in replacement of a comparable grade from another supplier. However, this is easier said than done.
The first question to ask is whether the performance of the replacement is equal to the original. For example, what are the new material’s thermal, impact and stiffness properties in comparison? Next come the challenges of production – for a drop-in, we want to ensure that processing routes and thus factory set-ups do not need to be changed. Will the new material affect rheology and the processing conditions, for example? These questions need to be answered before the manufacturer is contacted.
In a recent web seminar, Dr. Charlie Bream, the Senior Product Manager for CES Selector at Granta Design, demonstrated the use of CES Selector to solve this problem. In his example, Charlie used the example of an Automotive Tier 1 supplier that was manufacturing interior door trim in the US, using the ABS material MAGNUM 342EZ. In this hypothetical circumstance, this material was in shortage meaning that Charlie was to use CES Selector to look for an alternative. First, he used the ‘Find Similar’ tool, a sophisticated search algorithm, to find materials that exhibit a similar property profile to the MAGNUM 342EZ. Then he used filters of ‘available in North America’ and ‘similar thermal melt flow characteristics’ to identify the best ‘drop ins’. The result was the following three materials:
- Jamplast JPL GABSI (100%)
- VYTEEN ABS 2904 (96%)
- Lushtrain Elite 1891 (93%)
With this list of three materials known to be comparable in both performance and processing, it would then be a case of contacting the manufacturer.
Finding an alternative material
Another approach is to switch to consider alternative materials, without the constraint of starting from a reference material and processing route. With this process we are going back to the fundamental requirements of the engineering application and finding an optimal choice based on these alone.
One drawback is you’ll likely need to change your production process, meaning a higher upfront cost. However, the ongoing benefits of finding a better quality of material may result in a long-term advantage.
In this case, Charlie used the systematic materials selection tools in CES Selector to rank all available materials against the specific criteria of the interior door trim.
- deal with temperatures between -20° and +95°
- adequate toughness to protect any electronics inside
- sound transmission and damping properties
- resistance to rain, salt water and cleaners
- to be moulded to a complex 3D shape
Once results were prioritized by their cost and weight it was discovered that a shift from an ABS material to a polypropylene material would be able to produce something that was both 10% lighter and 35% lower in cost, when in comparison to MAGNUM 342 EZ.
Whether you decide to quickly find a drop-in replacement or are willing to change your process entirely for a better alternative, companies can feel safe in the knowledge there are ways to solve the problems of a materials shortage. But you’ll need trustworthy data and the right tools to exploit it.
If you’re interested in seeing Dr. Charlie Bream’s web seminar in action, find it here.
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