It's been a turbulent few years. The industry has been hit with a perfect storm of supply chain disruptions caused by labor shortages, inflationary pressure and logistics problems. The consequences have been dire: shortages, historically high prices, and delivery delays for prime and engineering-grade plastics, as well as components made from them.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and winter storms wreaked havoc on the manufacturing supply chain, the trend toward tight supplies had been building up. The situation has been compounded by multiple factors, including insufficient raw material supply, maintenance delays and plant disasters that have disrupted polymer resin production and the delivery of plastic products. As a result, companies that outsource their plastics manufacturing have struggled to finish their products on time and within budget.
But don't lose hope just yet. With a few strategic changes, you can turn this challenge into an opportunity to revolutionize your supply chain and stay ahead of the competition. Implement these steps to ensure your plastics manufacturing process is prepared for unexpected disruptions:
• Embrace multiple manufacturing methods. Design parts using molding and 3D printing options to diversify your manufacturing methods and reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions.
• Rely on 3D printing as a gap filler. Reduce the need for large inventories using quick-turn injection molding or 3D printing for replacement or repair parts. This allows for faster production turnaround times and reduces the risk of inventory management issues.
• Rethink procurement strategies. Rely more on local suppliers and establish framework contracts with strategically important suppliers to reduce the risks of delivery delays and price hikes. Building a lean, strategic supplier network can create a more agile supply chain.
• Embrace digitization. Use digital tools to communicate updates on supply chain disruptions, forecast customer demand accurately, and maintain transparency within and outside the organization. GPS tracking of transport vehicles and color coding and labeling systems for material delivery bags can also improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misrouting.
The plastics industry has always been one of the most dynamic and competitive markets and today that's truer than ever before. If you want to thrive, then you've got to be willing to shake things up and create a supply chain that's nimble and adaptable.
Tracy Beard is a director of operations at Seattle-based Quickparts Inc.