Pentagon Plastics - Supply difficulties in a material world

As one of the UK's leading plastic injection moulders we are not alone in dealing with the growing difficulties in obtaining some grades of raw material.

Since the start of the year, we have seen a sharp rise in the lack of availability of a range of polymers including EVA, ABS, Nylon and Polythene of various grades. At Pentagon we use a high volume of EVA within the medical mouldings that we produce and right now this material appears unobtainable. With an increasing open order book for various product ranges we are starting to feel the heat.

Continuity of the supply chain is one of our core values here at Pentagon and we pride ourselves in having a strong supplier network however these issues appear to be industry wide.

The material supply issues appear to be a deliciously confusing mix of both COVID-19 and Brexit and as an extra dab of salt in the wound, the limited amount of polymer that is available is being sold to the Far East where raw material is sold at a higher price than here in the EU/UK.

We are all aware that COVID-19 has had a huge impact worldwide and this has caused production of some material to slow or in some cases stop all together. Due to the inevitable high levels of sickness and low staff levels in countries where thermoplastics are manufactured, such as South America. In turn this is causing availability issues for material suppliers and processors like ourselves.

The impact of Brexit is also having an effect on material supply coming into the UK with both thermoplastics and plate steels for mould tooling being held up due to border delays, introduction of freight forwarding process and additional administrative requirements. This is proving a difficult issue for suppliers to resolve meaning that much needed raw materials are unable to be released into the UK in a timely manner which then leads to production delays.

Over coming just one of these issues would be a challenge, but all three in one go!! So as a supplier to our valued customers what are we doing about it?

Our customers remain our absolute priority and meeting their order requirements is paramount. To this end our Purchasing department is in constant contact with material supplies chasing orders that were placed some time ago and are yet to be fulfilled. Open supplier communication enables us to deliver latest information back to our customers and manager our own operational expectations within our Moulding and Tooling Divisions.

Our production team are continuously monitoring our open orders, evaluating how best we utilise some of the limited raw material stocks that we do have to fulfil the most urgent demands. Our sales team regularly contact customers affected to monitor their existing supply, understand requirements for any immediate product demand and feedback the information gained by purchasing from material suppliers.

We have utilised the power of social media to try to obtain surplus stock from other moulders with limited success.

Where at all possible we are looking at suitable alternative polymers for production, however this is a limited option as the high engineering grades that we process here are usually of a specified grade chosen for a particular product value or purpose.

By continuing to communicate with customers and suppliers on a frequent basis all parties concerned remain knowledgeable, with open conversation and understanding as to when material will become available and identify any serious supply issues at the earliest possible stage

This is proving to be a tricky time for the polymer industry, and we have had to have some very open conversations with some of the designers and advise that long term alternative material options may need to be considered.

We are confident that in time these breaks in supply chain will iron out as we all adjust to life after COVID and indeed Brexit, but we cannot predict how long this will take.

We will continue to work with our suppliers and our customers to manage production as best we can and strive to meet our standard lead times wherever possible.

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