Automakers seek alternatives for resin used in fuel, brake lines.
April 25, 2012
by The Canadian Press
DETROIT: Executives from four auto parts companies say the shortage of a key ingredient in plastic resin won’t create a widespread fallout or disrupt their operations.
Automakers and parts companies have been scrambling to find substitutes since a factory in Germany which makes much of the world’s supply of the ingredient, suspended production after it exploded in March.
The resin is used in hundreds of parts. It’s most critical in fuel and brake lines because it can carry gasoline and other fluids without deteriorating.
Companies that make fuel lines, brake lines and connectors have been worried they will run out of PA-12 and they may have to stop shipments to automakers and larger parts suppliers. One key fuel line maker, TI Automotive, warned last week that the auto production interruptions are likely in the next few weeks. TI and a trade group of suppliers held an industry-wide meeting last week to look at the remaining supply of PA-12 and encourage faster testing of alternatives.
But Rodney O’Neal, CEO of Delphi, one of the largest parts suppliers, says he sees little impact on Delphi or auto production.
“I don’t see this as a crisis in terms of tremendous downtime at all for anyone around the world,” says O’Neal. He says the auto industry is addressing the problem quickly and with flexibility.
Delphi, a Troy, Mich., supplier of audio systems, fuel pumps, wiring connectors and other items, uses PA-12 in a small number of parts and has lined up substitutes.
“We believe there’s enough inventory in the channel right now to handle this,” says John Brooklier, vice-president of investor relations for Illinois Tool Works. He claims the Glenview, Ill., maker of metal and plastic parts such as door handles, uses little PA-12 but is watching the impact on auto companies.
At AK Steel, CEO James Wainscott suggests customers are telling the company that any shortage is likely to be a challenge mostly for European automakers in the US.
“There may be some trickle-lower effect here, but we don’t look for that to be a great concern,” he says.
The shortage is caused by a March 31 explosion at Evonik Industries’ plant. The factory supplies at least a quarter of the world’s PA-12, and about 70% of a chemical that’s used by other companies to make resin. Evonik expects the plant to be out of commission for at least three months.
At Parker Hannifin, a maker of valves, filters, pumps and hoses, CEO Donald Washkewicz says his company isn’t in the fuel line business but does use PA-12, also known as nylon-12, in air brake tubing and other parts. The Cleveland-based company has been using alternate materials.
He did warn, however, that the shortage could drive up the cost of raw materials used to make plastic parts.
Few plastics can do what PA-12 does. The chemical doesn’t absorb as much moisture as other plastics and will stand up to carrying gasoline, brake fluid and other hydrocarbon liquids. Sadhan Jana, a professor of polymer engineering at the University of Akron in Ohio, says he knows of no other plastic as durable as PA-12.
Any substitute would have to go through rigorous testing to make sure it would work for a specific automotive part, Jana says. Those tests could take months.
Automakers and suppliers are close to agreeing on a fast-track process for testing replacements.
The Automotive Industry Action Group, a non-profit trade group, said Monday that General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group, Honda Motor Co., Hyundai-Kia, Volkswagen AG and their suppliers, are expected to finalize new testing standards next week. The agreement would reduce the interim approval process for new materials to three weeks from the current eight weeks or longer.
AIAG said the group feels confident it can shorten the testing time because alternative resins are already well known and previous testing has accurately predicted real-world performance.
©The Canadian Press