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Sup­pli­er selec­tion for rub­ber and plas­tic —

What should you look out for?

02.03.2022   | Joachim Reindl | Dieter Lödel

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Choos­ing the right sup­pli­er for rub­ber or plas­tic com­po­nents is not easy. There are numer­ous sup­pli­ers on the mar­ket whose per­for­mance is often dif­fi­cult to assess from the out­side. In addi­tion, sup­pli­ers in this area also act as devel­op­ment part­ners and the pro­por­tion of ser­vices is cor­re­spond­ing­ly high­er. For this rea­son, it is advis­able to gain an overview of the specifics of the indus­try before select­ing a new sup­pli­er for rub­ber and plas­tic products.

How does the sup­pli­er selec­tion process for rub­ber and plas­tics work?

At the basic process lev­el, sup­pli­er selec­tion is the same in all com­pa­nies. The pur­chas­ing depart­ment first research­es poten­tial sup­pli­ers for the mate­ri­als (based on inter­nal or exter­nal infor­ma­tion) and cre­ates a short list. It then looks in detail at all the man­u­fac­tur­ers on this list, cross­es off those that turn out to be unsuit­able, and selects the sup­ply part­ner who best meets the indi­vid­ual deci­sion criteria.

The sec­ond phase, sup­pli­er eval­u­a­tion, is par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing in rub­ber and plas­tics pro­cess­ing. The rea­son for this is the low degree of stan­dard­iza­tion of these materials.

In the met­al sec­tor, there are firm­ly defined prod­ucts, for exam­ple steel grades, which always have the same prop­er­ties. Pur­chas­ing can there­fore con­cen­trate on find­ing a sup­pli­er who offers the mate­r­i­al required by the design at the most favor­able conditions.

With rub­ber and plas­tics, this is only the case to a lim­it­ed extent. Both plas­tics and elas­tomers are mate­ri­als with a wide range of prop­er­ties that depend on their spe­cif­ic com­po­si­tion. Although there are stan­dard­ized prod­ucts (for exam­ple, cer­tain types of sil­i­cone) that sup­pli­ers also have in their port­fo­lio across the board, these are not suit­able for all areas of application.

As a rule, cus­tomers need rub­ber com­pounds or plas­tics that are indi­vid­u­al­ly tai­lored to their needs, depend­ing on para­me­ters such as ambi­ent tem­per­a­tures, mechan­i­cal loads or vibrations.

Only a few man­u­fac­tur­ers are able to design rub­ber and plas­tic arti­cles that ade­quate­ly meet their cri­te­ria. This is because the core com­pe­ten­cies of most man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies tend to lie in the met­al sec­tor. They sim­ply lack the know-how to deal with plas­tics or elas­tomers. If they do need a cor­re­spond­ing com­po­nent, whether plas­tic parts, com­pos­ite parts or mold­ed rub­ber parts, they call on the con­sult­ing ser­vices of their sup­pli­ers. This cir­cum­stance should also be reflect­ed in the selec­tion of suppliers.

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What you should look for in plas­tic com­po­nents or mold­ed rub­ber parts

Hard fac­tors such as price, deliv­ery con­di­tions and prod­uct qual­i­ty also play a major role in elas­tomers and plas­tics and should by no means be neglect­ed. How­ev­er, they are not the sole focus of sup­pli­er eval­u­a­tion. In the pro­cure­ment of rub­ber and plas­tic arti­cles, soft fac­tors are also of high val­ue, even more so than in the met­al sector.

As a rule, man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies are not only look­ing for a prod­uct sup­pli­er for plas­tic com­po­nents or rub­ber goods, but also for a devel­op­ment part­ner who can sup­port them in both design and mate­r­i­al selec­tion. Rub­ber and plas­tics sup­pli­ers are more deeply involved in the val­ue cre­ation process of their cus­tomers than is the case in many oth­er indus­tries. Accord­ing­ly, the qual­i­ty of their con­sult­ing ser­vices and cus­tomer ser­vice is an impor­tant part of sup­pli­er selection.

Pay atten­tion to how poten­tial sup­pli­ers respond to your inquiry. Rep­utable sup­pli­ers first ana­lyze your require­ments and gen­er­al con­di­tions before sub­mit­ting a bid. Such sup­pli­ers ask ques­tions, com­mu­ni­cate with their cus­tomers on an equal foot­ing and are not afraid to find uniden­ti­fied chal­lenges or alter­na­tive solutions.

Hon­esty and trans­paren­cy are the be-all and end-all in the pro­cure­ment process. As a rule, there are no elas­tomers and plas­tics that meet all cus­tomer require­ments out of the box. The same applies to deliv­ery times. Cur­rent­ly, the entire Ger­man indus­try is expe­ri­enc­ing deliv­ery prob­lems and is open­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing this. Com­pa­nies that do not do so are prob­a­bly not act­ing trans­par­ent­ly toward their customers.

Hint: 

We are talk­ing about an aver­age project involv­ing hoses or seals, for exam­ple. Of course, there are appli­ca­tions for which stan­dard mate­ri­als or com­po­nents such as o‑rings are per­fect­ly suit­able. In prac­tice, how­ev­er, this hap­pens rather rarely. 

It is also impor­tant that you do not leave the selec­tion of sup­pli­ers in the rub­ber and plas­tics sec­tor exclu­sive­ly to the pur­chas­ing staff. Although they can nego­ti­ate prices and deliv­ery con­di­tions, they can hard­ly eval­u­ate the advi­so­ry part of the coop­er­a­tion. Very few buy­ers are able to assess whether the pro­posed solu­tion from a rub­ber and plas­tics sup­pli­er meets the require­ments of the design. There­fore, in addi­tion to pur­chas­ing, you should always get the tech­ni­cal depart­ments on board, at least as far as the tech­ni­cal details are concerned.

It’s not just about the price of the products

The high com­pet­i­tive pres­sure in the indus­try is dri­ving many com­pa­nies to align their pro­cure­ment with price. As far as plas­tic and rub­ber prod­ucts are con­cerned, how­ev­er, this can only be rec­om­mend­ed to a lim­it­ed extent. The low lev­el of stan­dard­iza­tion makes it dif­fi­cult for cus­tomers to assess the qual­i­ty of the mate­r­i­al in advance. At the same time, sup­pli­ers in the low-price sec­tor offer few­er advi­so­ry ser­vices, so cus­tomers some­times inad­ver­tent­ly select an unsuit­able mate­r­i­al for their com­po­nents. In the rub­ber and plas­tics sec­tor, a strong price ori­en­ta­tion can there­fore result in restric­tions with regard to prod­uct quality.

In addi­tion, there are oth­er deci­sion-mak­ing cri­te­ria that should be part of the sup­pli­er eval­u­a­tion apart from price. These include, for exam­ple, ser­vice, deliv­ery reli­a­bil­i­ty, local prox­im­i­ty and good acces­si­bil­i­ty, if pos­si­ble with fixed con­tact per­sons in cus­tomer ser­vice to facil­i­tate con­tact between cus­tomer and supplier.

Sus­tain­abil­i­ty has also become an inte­gral part of mod­ern sup­pli­er man­age­ment. Require­ments such as the low­est pos­si­ble CO2 emis­sions, envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly mate­ri­als and a trans­par­ent sup­ply chain free of human rights vio­la­tions are part of every company’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions and should be con­sci­en­tious­ly reviewed. Not only because of legal require­ments, but also because sus­tain­abil­i­ty has become an intrin­sic con­cern for many decision-makers.

Con­clu­sion

In essence, sup­pli­er selec­tion for rub­ber and plas­tic prod­ucts is lit­tle dif­fer­ent from oth­er areas. The process is the same, only the focus is dif­fer­ent. Soft fac­tors such as trans­paren­cy or hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion at eye lev­el have a high­er pri­or­i­ty, as rub­ber and plas­tic require a high­er pro­por­tion of consulting.

All mold­ed parts are indi­vid­u­al­ly adapt­ed to their intend­ed use; stan­dard prod­ucts are few and far between. For this rea­son, man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies for rub­ber and plas­tic are usu­al­ly not look­ing for a sim­ple sup­pli­er, but for a devel­op­ment part­ner who can sup­port them in mate­r­i­al selec­tion, opti­miza­tion and design. You should def­i­nite­ly keep this cir­cum­stance in mind when select­ing a supplier.

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Secure the Start of Production 

Learn which fac­tors influ­ence your SOP!

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Author: Joachim Reindl

Joachim Reindl is region­al sales man­ag­er at Jäger, respon­si­ble for Aus­tria and the south of Bavaria. He has 45 years of expe­ri­ence in the rub­ber and plas­tics sector.

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Author: Dieter Lödel

Dieter Lödel has been a field sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Jäger since 2015 and brings 30 years of expe­ri­ence in plastics.

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