Automotive sourcing managers are back in the soup again just a year after Japanese tsunami-related production problems triggered supply disruptions for six months.
Now execs at GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota are scrambling to find a source for polyamide 12, a semi-crystalline specialty plastic used to produce cable ties, wire insulation, flexible hosing, nozzles, damping cogwheels, flexible cover caps, sheet gaskets, sealing rings, protective coverings, medical catheters, photovoltaic components and ski boots.
Due to a lower concentration of nitrogen-containing organic compounds called amides than other polyamides, it has an interesting property profile, including excellent chemical resistance and high dimensional stability in humid environments.
It turns out a German chemical producer had a choke hold on half the world’s supply of the material, and it’s now declaring force majeure not only on polyamide 12, but on CDT (cyclododecatriene), the chemical precursor it supplied to another major producer, Arkema. Evonik and Arkema account for about half of global production of polyamide (nylon) 12, a material that had already been in tight supply because of rebounding auto production and its increasing use in solar cells.
A fire broke out at Evonik’s CDT manufacturing plant March 31. CDT is used to make laurolactam which, in turn, is used as a monomer in polyamide 12 (PA12).
The Automotive Industry Action Group convened an emergency summit of 200 companies to assess the situation and consider alternatives. The group issued this statement today:
“We greatly appreciate the personal and professional commitment made by all of the key stakeholders in attendance at yesterday’s summit. The objectives at the industry summit were threefold:
1.) Help the industry understand and quantify the current state of global PA-12 inventories and production capacities.
2.) Collaboratively brainstorm options to strategically extend current PA-12 capacities and/or identify alternative materials or designs to offset projected capacity shortfalls.
3.) Identify/recruit the necessary industry resources required to technically vet, test and approve such options.”
Six technical committees were formed to develop/evaluate and fast track action plans designed to mitigate the impact of potential PA-12 capacity shortfalls on both component and vehicle production.
Meanwhile, it may take Evonik until the end of the year to get its German CDT plant up and running again. One silver lining is that the shortage may trigger greater use of a bioplastic called VESTAMID Terra. “It is possible to modify these biobased polymers as required for many of the relevant applications to achieve much the same material attributes as PA12,” Evonik said in a statement.
Shame on the automotive sourcing community for getting caught again with its pants down. Polyamide 12 should have been on a short list of supplies that are treated as critical. In terms of impact, it’s close to a sole source type of situation. Alternatives should been tested, qualified, and ready to go.
Companies and organizations attending the AIAG summit on polyamide 12 were:
• A. Schulman, Inc.
• ABC Group Fuel Systems, Inc.
• Advantage Technical Resourcing
• AGC Chemicals Americas, Inc.
• Akron Polymer
• Arkema, Inc.
• Chrysler Group
• Clark Hill
• Cooper-Standard Automotive
• Curtis-Maruyasu America
• Daikin America
• Delfingen Industry
•DSM Engineering Plastics
• DTR Industries
• DuPont Automotive
• Evonik Industries AG
• Ford Motor
• General Motors
• Hanil USA
• Hyundai – Kia America Technical Center
• Inergy Automotive Systems
• KIA Motors Manufacturing Georgia
• Magna International
• Martinrea International
• Mercedes-Benz U.S.
• Nissan Technical Center North America
• Nobel Automotive
• NORMA Americas
• Original Equipment Suppliers Association
• Powertrain Systems
• Radici Plastics USA
• Sanoh America
• Solvay Specialty Polymers
• TG Fluid Systems USA
• TI Group Automotive Systems
• Toyoda Gosei
• Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc.
• UBE America Inc.
• Vehicle Group