Without energy, plastics don't melt. Toolmakers don't grind.
In fact, just about everything grinds to a stop.
Hundreds of plastics-related companies from New York to Michigan were without power Aug. 14 and 15 following a massive power outage. Power officials could not agree on the cause of the trouble, although experts all agreed that it was not linked to terrorism.
The affected region included the plastics-heavy areas around Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and Erie, Pa.
Power returned to many areas in a matter of hours, and some companies never were affected at all. But problems remained widespread Aug. 15, and experts predicted that some customers would be without power into the weekend.
There was no indication that the outage would last more than a few days or that it would cause any long-term trouble.
Detroit was among the hardest hit. Nearly all manufacturers in southeast Michigan ground to a halt with the blackout. Automakers were affected across an even- wider area, since the bulk of their plants are scattered throughout the Midwest and Ontario. More than 35 plants operated by General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. were affected by the cascading blackout. Many of their suppliers' operations also were closed.
Collins & Aikman Corp. was forced to make its quarterly call with analysts from its Troy, Mich., headquarters solely on battery backup. New Chief Executive Officer David Stockman noted that he was forced to find one of the few working phone lines in the building and to read notes using a lantern.
Several upstate New York companies reported that they lost power for about five hours.
Medical tubing maker Precision Extrusion Inc. in Glens Falls, N.Y., was still cleaning up its equipment Friday morning, trying to clear plastic stuck in the extruders when the power stopped abruptly, President Mike Badera said in an Aug. 15 interview.
Compression molder Diemolding Corp. in Canastota, N.Y., was more fortunate. The automotive supplier lost power from about 4:15 p.m. to 10 p.m., but was back to normal Friday morning, said General Manager Dennis O'Brien.
``It may have only been a five- hour blackout but it cost us a whole production day,'' he said. ``We're back up today but with extrusion that means we're cleaning yesterday's leftovers.''
It won't mean any missed orders, but it will cost the 15-employee firm about $5,000 in overtime and other expenses, he said.
Polyolefin and polystyrene producer Nova Chemicals Corp. shut down five plants. The Pittsburgh company announced it would remain down until power production stabilized.
At Charter Plastics Inc. in Titusville, Pa., officials lost about five hours of production.
``We're OK,'' said Donna Stoughton, director of sales and marketing, in an Aug. 15 telephone interview. ``We got power back around 8:30 or 9 o'clock. We weren't hit too hard. We were lucky. With polyethylene, it's not as dramatic to start as with PVC.''
Charter's pipe extrusion plant is located between Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa.
``All of the computer systems we have here, we have battery backup until they can be shut down,'' Stoughton said.
At PVC pipe extruder National Pipe & Plastics Inc. in Vestal, N.Y., the factory was down for about 16 hours.
``We'll be back to normal fairly soon,'' said National President Dave Culbertson.
Compounders in the region reported mixed results. One of the more unusual examples occurred in northeast Ohio, where Diamond Polymers, an ABS maker and compounder in Akron, lost power for about six hours while Americhem Inc., a concentrates maker located less than 10 miles away in Cuyahoga Falls, never lost power at all.
A Diamond spokesman said the firm did not lose significant production and was able to restart late on Aug. 14.
Compounding plants operated by PolyOne Corp. in Avon Lake and by Accel Colors in Avon remained without power around noon Aug. 15. Noveon Inc., which operates compounding lines at the PolyOne site, was in the process of restarting its operations around the same time, Noveon spokeswoman Judy Makowski said.
Accel President Dwight Morgan said his firm would be able to shift deadline production to its facility in Naperville, Ill. The firm's extrusion lines were not damaged, but its phone system was knocked out. Accel's computer system was still operational, since it is backed up at another site.
``We've had to do some hustling, but we're getting by,'' Morgan said.
Three hundred employees got the day off Friday from the Demag Plastics Group's U.S. headquarters and injection press assembly plant in Strongsville, Ohio, because the building lost electricity and water. But just a few miles away, things were running smoothly at the company's Molder Action Network spare parts and service operation, said Bill Carteaux, executive managing director.
The Molder Action Network had electricity and is fully operational, although - like the rest of the Cleveland area - was still without water service Friday. ``We've had to bring in Porta Johns because we have no water,'' Carteaux said.
In Connecticut, injection press supplier Arburg Inc. lost electricity the afternoon of Aug. 14 at its Newington facility. But the next morning employees arrived to find power was working in about two-thirds of the building, said Robert Arace, chief financial officer. Most of Arburg's computers were working, and the company had not lost any data, he said.
``We had to cancel a couple of mold trials for some people this morning,'' Arace said Friday.
Parts of New York, including Manhattan, were still without power Aug. 15. While the city isn't known for its manufacturing, the blackout there still managed to touch the plastics industry.
The Industrial Designers Society of America, which was holdings its national conference in New York from Aug. 13-16, suddenly found itself without power - and without a headquarters hotel - when the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square asked its guests to evacuate the evening of Aug. 14. Many of the attendees, including Plastics News Editor Robert Grace, were forced to join a massive crowd that gathered to sleep on the street.
``It looked like a Grateful Dead concert in the middle of Manhattan, without the music,'' Grace said. ``Times Square was dark. It was bizarre.''