- Jon Reay
Resin shortage threatens to put the brakes on worldwide car production
A stopped production line at German chemical company could - if no workaround solution is found - temporarily stop car assembly worldwide.
PA-12 - a resin used in various applications across fuel and braking systems in cars - isn't a substance that you're likely to have been familiar with up until this point.
Get a FREE Brochure
Looking for a new car then why not start with a glossy brochure
Get a FREE Car Brochure
Looking for a new car then why not start with a glossy brochure?
It performs a fairly humble job, serving in coatings and connectors deep under your car's bonnet, but it's a material that's strangely high demand - particularly with worldwide automotive production on the rise.
That high demand is about to be met with low supply, though - stemming from a fire that killed two people at a German factory which, before the production line was closed, was responsible for anywhere between one quarter to half the world's PA-12 production.
Without that supply, it's quite likely that car manufacturers will have no choice but to temporarily halt production - but when and for how long remains to be seen.
Repairs to the PA-12 production line have already begun at Evonik AG's factory in Marl, Germany, but with no solid date given for its completion - and rough estimates from the company simply stating that they're aiming for 'before winter' - the automotive industry is rightly worried.
Representatives from eight manufacturers including GM, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen - along with over 50 suppliers - met near Detroit on Tuesday in an attempt to work out the impact of the shortages and brainstorm potential solutions.
The Automotive Industry Action Group, who chaired the meeting, hasn't released details about the results of the discussion, but high on the agenda appears to have been the idea of finding a replacement substance.
Doing so isn't simply a case of developing and then producing it, though - authorities need to approve such alternatives before they're allowed to be used and, says research body IHS Automotive, that's a process that takes time and considerable effort.
"Given the component testing and approval processes employed, it is unlikely to be the work of a moment to find or develop a substitutable alternative material."
"Running at full capacity"
Crucially, it's not simply a case of producing more PA-12 elsewhere either, with many existing producers relying on the halted Evonik plant for base material called CDT that's required to make the resin.
Similarly, many self reliant facilities are unable to edge up production because - with demand already high - they simply can't stretch themselves to produce any more of the substance in a given period.
"We've received some requests from customers for more PA-12 production, but there is no room for us to produce more because we are already running at full capacity," said a spokesman for Japanese PA-12 manufacturer Ube Industries, speaking to Bloomberg. "A shortage of supply will happen."
Manufacturers are remaining tight-lipped on whether any production issues are likely to follow, but this isn't the first time that supplies of one particular substance have brought manufacturing to a halt.
Just over a year ago during Japan's tsunami and following nuclear crisis, pigments used by Ford for various paint colours suddenly became unavailable - temporarily stopping production of black-coloured cars, and limiting orders for models painted in red.
Impact likely to be 'widespread'
With the PA-12 substance's use spread across manufacturers and models, though, it's likely that an impact would be far more widespread. Not all manufacturers will be affected equally, though - with some relying on other suppliers for the substance.
Japanese and German automakers are likely to be less affected, says Reuters, either relying on or being able to switch to sources outside of Evonik's production. French manufacturers will face shortages, though, with their supplies coming from a French company which in turn relies on Evonik for its CDT.
No further updates from either suppliers or car manufacturers have been released yet, but we'll be keeping a close eye on the story.