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On Feb. 5, the Biden administration announced plans to leverage the Defense Production Act (DPA) to bolster vaccine production, boost the availability of virus tests, and increase the supply of personal protective equipment such as masks, shields and gloves.

So how does this effect the manufacturers of urethane parts such as Molded Dimensions? One of the main polyols used in the manufacturing of urethane is polytetramethylene ether glycol (PTMEG) and it made the DPA list. With the domestic supply of PTMEG already running short, an unanticipated government order created a significant hurdle. This crisis materialized quickly, but a solution seemed quite the opposite.

PTMEG is a key ingredient to many formulas that Molded Dimensions uses in the manufacturing of urethane parts. When one of the company’s largest suppliers notified them that, effective immediately, they were not able to ship the amount of PTMEG-based prepolymers they required, it became necessary to quickly find alternative resources.

Polyurethane being hand poured into open cast molds

This is when a company finds out how good their supply network relationships really are.

Supply Chain Set-Up
According to Molded Dimensions in-house Chemist, Tony Lukas, “We contacted our long-term, global suppliers about our need to quickly receive alternative urethane materials to offset the supply reductions. They responded as we hoped they would.”

One of the advantages of having a Chemist in-house is the time saved on the product development side. According to Tony, “We got the (shortage) news on a Friday morning and had data sheets out to customers and material samples on the way to us later that day. Our plant guys did a fabulous job running new materials through our equipment and quickly produced samples that property-wise would be an equivalent. We had samples to our customers in a matter of days, not weeks.”

Some polyurethane molds allow for machine pouring

Customers had the option if they wanted to sample or approve the new parts on the fly. All still had to meet Molded Dimension’s vigorous quality control testing before they could be shipped. To date, the company is proud to say that they have not lost a customer due to this latest crisis.

The pandemic has proved to be difficult test for many manufacturers and many industries are not out of the woods yet. One lesson continues to be battle-tested though: You are only as good as your supply chain and the strong relationships you have built over time.