Like the car companies and aircraft makers before them, resin suppliers have become electronic-commerce control freaks. Five of the world's largest engineering thermoplastic suppliers — BASF Corp., Bayer AG, Dow Chemical Co., DuPont and Ticona/Celanese AG — on April 5 signed a letter of intent to form a global e-marketplace for injection molders.
Five years from now, 80 percent of all injection molding transactions will occur over the Web, predicted Raj Mehta, business director for BASF's plastic materials group in Mount Olive, N.J. The suppliers want to make their e-statement before someone else grabs that brass ring.
Suppliers will benefit from lower overhead costs and inventory management over the site. But Mehta said what's more important is that the site will help their customers slash transaction costs.
Still, some injection molders are unclear as to how the new site will change the buying rules.
Joseph Yanarella, sales and marketing director of Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Security Plastics Inc., frets that suppliers will force molders to buy a Web-based catalog price instead of offering the lower, back-room-negotiated deal.
And Bruce Bixler, director of materials at Arlington, Vt.-based Mack Group Inc., said the site might work best with simple commodity resins.
"For someone buying vanilla, it'll be great and easy to use the site," Bixler said. "Other [resins] need verbal confirmation of special grades, delivery dates and changes."
The site will start with resin transactions but could grow, with proper care and feeding, into a beanstalk climbed by all members of the molding community. The group wants to enlist distributors, machinery companies, toolmakers, compounders and others to round out the offerings.
If that happens (and other resin companies sign up), injection molders could truly see a superportal. All elements of purchasing, from quoting to order entry to inventory control to shipping to credit checks and billing, could be wired.
The resin companies' effort could take business away from the numerous Web-based independent chemical exchanges. But don't rule out the independent sites yet.
The resin companies may chose to link to chemical trading sites, especially for auctions or exchange scenarios. That could at least give those companies a piece of the action and create a broad, interwoven Web network.
For other transactions, though, resin suppliers could do the heavy lifting.
Some of them are not happy to see outrageously low prices being offered over other sites, another reason to assert control, said Donald Goodwin, president of consulting firm Technomic International of Northbrook, Ill.
"Some of them are selling polypropylene for something like 19 cents a pound," Goodwin said.
For the resin e-marketplace to be successful, though, injection molders must be convinced to buy from a wired supermarket of goods instead of from each supplier's neighborhood grocery store.
That increasingly appears to be inevitable.