Shipping also has been an issue in unexpected ways, according to Mike Gaudio, marketing and global business vice president at Ampacet Corp. in Tarrytown, N.Y.
"If you're shipping by truck from New York to California and the truck had planned to stop in Kansas City but had to stop in Omaha because Kansas City was closed because of COVID, then you can't get a shipment in three days; you have to get it in six," he said.
"It's harder to get additives right now," said Jean Sirois, strategic planning and acquisitions director at RTP Co. in Winona, Minn. "Supply can be there; it's hard to find."
He added that communication has been more important than ever this year: "We've never shied away from communicating with customers, whether it's bad or good. It's been a year of being flexible."
At Aurora Plastics in Streetsboro, Ohio, officials have seen extended lead times, capacity utilization challenges and "supply and demand challenges across the chain," according to CEO Darrell Hughes.
"Every material has faced challenges, even corrugated [cardboard]," he said. "You have to look beyond the suppliers you deal with to their vendors. It's important to have a team working on that. This year has really stressed the importance of long-term relationships."
Chroma Color Corp. CEO Shruti Singhal agreed that relationships "are always critical" and added that "open and transparent communication" has been very important for his McHenry, Ill.-based firm in 2021.
"From our standpoint, we know we're not the only ones in the boat," he said. "Our core demand hasn't been so much about price as supply, so we really depend on our suppliers."
Polymer Resources of Farmington, Conn., has managed its way through 2021, but "every day has brought new surprises," according to President and Chief Operating Officer Scott Anderson.
"We've had to find alternate sources for everything down to boxes and pallets," he said. "One material will be short for a while, then another one will be short, but that hasn't stopped our growth."
"We've had longer lead times all year, but we've managed to stay ahead on additives," added Mike Rosenthal, executive vice president at Plastics Group of America in Woonsocket, R.I.
At Americhem Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Vice President and General Manager of Commercial, North America, Mark Juve said that his firm "gets 95 percent of our materials, but that small amount you don't get can affect a lot of products."
"We spend a lot of time on sourcing," he added. "There can be a shortage of materials, where you can't get it for months or you have to go outside the U.S., and that can be uncertain on timing and can affect our production schedules and our customers' schedules."
For Teknor Apex Co. in Pawtucket, R.I., the last year has seen "booming demand" from industries such as construction and medical, according to President Suresh Swaminathan.
"Production can't keep up with it," he said. "Lead times definitely have been impacted. There's been some impact of climate change, with flooding in Europe and the ice storm in Texas, and preparedness hasn't been sufficient.
"Now the issue on logistics is, How do you move material? We've qualified alternate suppliers, because the farther away from the plant, the more difficult it gets."
Some inventory building may be occurring at the customer level, but market veteran Keith Rodden said that, for the most part, compounders are seeing organic demand.
"The amazing thing is that with all these supply shortages, everyone is busy," added Rodden, president of consulting firm Compound Solutions in Lebanon, Tenn. "It's not uncommon for an order in October not to be delivered until January."
Supply chain disruptions "have caused havoc for compounds, and that's cut down to plastics processors and suppliers," according to Phil Karig, managing director of Mathelin Bay Associates in St. Louis.
"Additives or anything with a foreign component are backed up as far as they can go," he said. "That introduces uncertainty into things and that has to affect production."
LyondellBasell's Advanced Polymer Solutions unit — North America's largest compounding business — has faced similar challenges, according to unit President Jim Guilfoyle. The unit's close relationships with suppliers have "helped mitigate" lack of availability in some raw materials, products and components, he said.
"We've done a good job of insulating our customers from the chaos and minimizing the impact on them," added Mike McGarrity, vice president of sales at Penn Color in Doylestown, Pa.
"Depending on who you talk to, the problems are coming from logistics or from force majeures," said Bill Ridenour, president of Polymer Transaction Advisors Inc. in Foxfire, N.C.
Supply chain issues have affected Mocom Compounds in all regions, but more so in the U.S. and Europe than China, according to CEO Ian Mills. Mocom is based in Hamburg, Germany, but it has global production, including a plant in Duncan, S.C.
"We've tried to reposition our supply chains and bring in material from other regions, but logistics costs are up dramatically," Mills said. "It's been fairly stressful."