The pandemic exacerbated existing supply chain issues, affecting material cost and availability, and now Russia’s war on Ukraine has added a new layer of complexity. Soaring oil prices are pushing global shipping and delivery rates to historic highs, and materials exported in large amounts by Russia and Ukraine are becoming increasingly difficult to source.
Three popular materials are particularly tough for contract machining shops to secure: stainless steel, titanium, and highly engineered plastics.
What’s Going On with Stainless Steel, Titanium, and Highly Engineered Plastics?
1. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a staple in precision machining shops. It’s one of the top two materials we work with—a popular choice due to its strength, durability, and resistance to corrosion. It’s used across all major industries and is critical in the manufacturing of medical components, food service products, and precision parts in aerospace, defense, and other major industries.
Manufacturers around the globe are having a hard time sourcing stainless steel because the price of nickel—a prominent element in stainless steel—has increased exponentially this year.
In March 2022, the London Metals Exchange temporarily halted the nickel market and suspended its trading due to an unprecedented change in pricing. Overnight, the price of nickel rose 250%, jumping from around $30K per ton to over $100K per ton before falling to about $80K per ton.
Our team is watching the stainless steel market closely for improvements in pricing and availability. In the meantime, materials like brass and some plastics are suitable alternatives for many parts.
Russia produces much of the world’s supply of titanium, which is increasingly scarce due to the current war between Russia and Ukraine.
Manufacturers in the United States are concerned that the Department of Defense could take over the whole titanium market. Strategic buying by government and defense contractors may leave little material available for contract manufacturers working in other industries.
We’re waiting to see how this titanium crisis unfolds and will work with you to seek comparable solutions if titanium isn’t available for your parts.
3. Highly engineered plastics
Even in “normal” times, highly engineered plastics tend to be in short supply and have long lead times. Currently, it’s taking 12+ months for contract manufacturing companies to get some highly engineered plastics for customers, even if they only need a few inches of these materials.
Plastics with black pigment resin are especially hard to source. For example, we can get Delrin easily, but black Delrin is hard to come by.
We’re also seeing continued shortages of KEL-F (also known as PCTFE) and PVC. The makers of PVC slowed production when the pandemic began, and now companies are taking action to ramp up and bring the PVC market back. Time will tell if their efforts are successful, and until then—we wait and watch for PVC availability.
When possible, switching to a standard plastic that still meets your part’s requirements is a good alternative. Additionally, we can look for generic materials that have comparable properties and can be seamlessly substituted for name-brand materials.
Reata Can Help You Find Part-Specific Material Alternatives
When popular materials are hard to source, there’s an instinct to make “panic purchases” and buy up the existing supply—but this reaction drives material prices even higher. We recommend talking to your manufacturer about your part design and requirements before moving forward.
There are material alternatives available—choosing the right one involves understanding your part’s requirements and selecting a material that can meet your specifications. Our team of engineers can help you find the right substitute material for your part.
As your contract manufacturing partner, we are here to help and will work through any challenges with you. Submit a quote to get started on your next project, and we’ll be in touch soon.