The Covid-19 pandemic delivered an unprecedented shock to manufacturing supply chains across the globe. For the injection molding industry specifically, border closings, labor shortages, and interrupted shipments created havoc. However, the crisis also led companies to implement innovative strategies and technologies to make their supply networks more resilient. The improvements driven by pandemic adversity will reverberate through injection molding for years to come.
Initial Supply Chain Disruptions
In early 2020, injection molding companies experienced severe supply chain disturbances as the virus spread worldwide. Border closures made material imports unreliable, especially from hard-hit areas like China plastic molding . Stay-at-home orders also reduced labor availability, shutting down production lines.
At the same time, panic buying by consumers cleaning out stocks of essential plastic products led to sudden demand spikes. The combination of supply and demand shocks resulted in shortages and soaring costs for resins and other injection molding inputs.
With suppliers unable to deliver and costs escalating, many molders had no choice but to halt production as inventories dried up. The initial months of the pandemic created unprecedented volatility and uncertainty throughout injection molding supply networks.
Accelerated Digital Transformation
The complex 21st century supply chain relies on huge flows of data and communications. Yet prior to Covid, many injection molding companies still used dated manual practices for sourcing, logistics, and inventory management. The pandemic forced an overnight switch to digital systems and data analytics.
Cloud-based platforms enabled remote supply chain monitoring and coordination when employees were under lockdown. Digital inventory management provided real-time visibility to redirect supplies. Data-rich transportation tracking systems kept shipments on course.
While Molders had been gradually adopting digital tech, Covid necessitated a rapid, wholesale transition to survive disrupted conditions. The benefits in efficiency and resilience will make digital supply chain platforms standard for the industry.
Diversifying Supplier Networks
The early pandemic shortages exposed the vulnerabilities of over-relying on concentrated suppliers, especially those located far away. For instance, when China shut down, companies dependent on Chinese resin had no backups. Diversifying to multi-source key materials from different geographic regions provided insulation.click for more
Increasingly, Molders developed flexible networks with redundant local suppliers. Rather than putting all eggs in one overseas basket, they pursued contracts with domestic suppliers to avoid border issues. Maintaining strategic inventories also provided a buffer when shipments stalled.
While diversifying suppliers costs more, the pandemic proved it’s a prudent form of risk management. Molders who diversified fared far better in avoiding crippling shortages during Covid.
Localized Manufacturing Where Possible
Offshoring injection molding production to Asia is standard practice for Western companies. However, the transport delays and port bottlenecks of 2020 revealed the perils of far-flung supply chains. Localized manufacturing emerged as a solution.
Rather than importing all products, some companies reshored molding operations back home. This provided more control, faster delivery times, and insulation from overseas disruptions. Regional sites also allow customizing products for local markets.
Local molding operations utilize local resin and parts suppliers, avoiding import issues. In-country production also provides job opportunities and civic benefits. While offshoring survives, look for more injection molding to return home after the pandemic travel bans.
Leaner Inventories and Just-in-Time
Many injection molding companies rely on large inventories of raw materials to absorb fluctuations in supply and demand. But warehousing excess stock proved costly during Covid. Instead, paring down inventories and moving to just-in-time lean practices minimized waste.
Closely aligning supply quantities with actual production needs through pull-based Kanban systems is more efficient. Buffer inventories are still kept for essential materials, but in tighter targeted quantities. Data analytics help predict needs.
The pandemic taught Molders excess inventories provide a false sense of security. Lean JIT systems build in flexibility while optimizing assets. Look for minimal inventories to become standard across the industry.
Partnerships and Collaboration With Suppliers
In past decades, arm’s length supplier relationships were the norm in injection molding. But Covid showed companies are stronger working collaboratively across the supply chain. Molders and suppliers focused on alignment rather than transactions.
Joint forecasting and planning gave visibility for suppliers to staging extra materials when demand fluctuated. Information sharing minimized surprises like material shortages. Suppliers also customized products like reusable shipping pallets to help partners cut costs.
This spirit of cooperation strengthened supply chain resiliency when tested by the pandemic. Expect to see JIT partnerships expand as suppliers become strategic allies.
Agile Manufacturing With Flexible Capacity
Fixed high-volume molding capacity works fine in stable times. But the extreme demand swings of 2020 required a nimbler approach. Leading Molders implemented flexible agile manufacturing to adjust.
Increasingly, mobile molding units and collaborative manufacturing networks provide pop-up capacity where and when needed. Rather than overinvesting in plants, agile capacity shifts nimbly across a collaborative ecosystem.
Look for more small, decentralized molding operations with real-time demand visibility. Agility unlocks efficient capital use and the ability to scale up and down. The pandemic proved agile manufacturing’s decisive advantages.
Stronger Relationships With Key Customers
In the molding industry, customers traditionally submitted orders and waited for delivery. But Covid’s volatility required working interactively with key accounts. Sharing plans and projections helped match supply to upcoming needs.
Larger clients provided demand forecasts and purchased buffer inventories. In return, Molders reserved production capacity and prioritized these accounts when materials ran short. Both sides aligned goals through open communication – a break from old transactional habits.
Joint planning to navigate pandemic uncertainty forged durable strategic customer relationships. Look for continued transparency and collaboration to serve critical accounts.
Contingency Plans forKnown Unknowns
Before 2020, worst-case supply chain scenarios seemed hypothetical for injection molding companies. But the pandemic proved major disruptions are inevitable. This necessitated contingency planning.
Risk matrixing and stress testing uncover supply chain vulnerabilities. Companies simulate crises scenarios like shipping stoppages and material shortages. Response playbooks are created for continuity.
Proactive contingency planning equips companies to quickly mobilize pre-set levers like alternate suppliers or overflow capacity when crisis hits. While Covid was unexpected, supply shock events now feel certain.
Few could have predicted a global pandemic bringing injection molding supply chains to the brink. But necessity forced improvements like digitalization, localization, lean operations and collaborative relationships.
While the industry’s transition towards resilience is still ongoing, the supply chain innovations sparked by coronavirus will pay dividends for decades to come. The future will see injection molding supply networks become agile fortresses prepared for whatever comes next.