JÄGER Business Blog

How to secure your spare parts supply
in the plastics and rubber sector

25.02.2023   |  Christoph Gähler

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Every component wears out over time. This is in the nature of things. The smooth operation of a machine therefore requires that spare parts for all important components are available at all times. In some industries, it is common practice to contractually stipulate the supply of spare parts as part of after-sales agreements. In the rubber and plastics sector, however, this is not the norm. Many companies rely on receiving supplies quickly from their suppliers in case of doubt. But there are a number of pitfalls lurking here.

What is the situation?

In addition to standard compounds, special compounds are also used in the rubber and plastics sector to optimally meet the respective application requirements. Consequently, regardless of the geometry of the component, companies cannot always simply order catalog goods from any supplier. For spare parts supply, this can be a challenge.

When a rubber or plastic component fails or is in danger of failing, the company should first ask itself a few questions to identify the best possible solution approach:

Are serviceable spare parts in stock in your own warehouse or that of a supplier?

Depending on their chemical composition, rubber and plastic parts cannot always be stored indefinitely. Due to the duration of storage and external influences such as temperature fluctuations and unfavorable light conditions, parts can become brittle, lose some of their material properties and thus become unusable. In addition, capital commitment plays an important role, as both customer and supplier try to keep their inventories low for cost reasons. Particularly in the case of long-life machines, the supply of spare parts from stock is therefore only feasible to a limited extent.

Does the supplier still exist?

If the original supplier of the component is no longer available, Purchasing must look for an alternative. This can be problematic if the component is a custom development or tool-bound. Depending on the nature or geometry of the required spare part, a new tool may be required if the old one is no longer available. The availability of the compound used to date for the component must also not be lost sight of. If necessary, alternative compounds or substitutes should be examined.

Is a tool required for the production of the component?

Spare parts are more difficult to obtain if the production of the component requires a tool. The reason for this is that tooling involves costs that are amortized over the number of units. Depending on the ownership relationship, the customer only has the right to use the tool, for example. In this case, a short-term relocation of the tool to another supplier may well cause difficulties.

Is the tool still ready for use?

In the case of tool-bound components, the question arises as to whether subsequent production is technically possible. It cannot generally be ruled out that suppliers may dispose of or scrap tools that are in their full ownership and have not been used for decades for economic or operational reasons. Wear effects also play a role, such as rust, corrosion or mechanical wear. In addition, if the tool was built a long time ago, it is not certain whether it is compatible with current machines. It may have to be adapted or manufactured anew.

Is the material still available?

Materials science is constantly making progress. For older components, it is therefore uncertain whether the material originally used is now obsolete. It may be necessary to select an alternative material with similar properties. Depending on the situation, this may take some time; especially if re-sampling and approval is required.

Stock with spare parts

Perform cost-benefit analysis

The situation analysis provides an overview of the challenges involved in procuring spare parts. The next step is to compare the effort with the expected added value.

If equipment and materials are still available on the supplier side, purchasing can simply reorder the component. Otherwise, the company must analyze what costs will be incurred by ramping up production capacities again.

If the material is no longer available on the market, a new selection is due. Although this process involves costs, it also offers the opportunity to realize optimization potential.

Older materials may no longer meet applicable specifications and requirements or the current state of the art. Replacing them with more modern variants can make a component lighter, more resistant and less sensitive to environmental influences. Of course, such a material change requires that the tool be compatible with the new material.

If the tool is damaged or incompatible with current machinery, the company must decide whether it wants to incur the adaptation costs. On the one hand, this increases the unit cost of the replacement part. On the other hand, a new development of the component is considerably more expensive, but also holds optimization possibilities. Both the material and the geometry can be put to the test on this occasion.

Information

In some cases it is possible to produce spare parts and also tools for small series by 3D printing. However, not all materials and geometries are suitable for this process. Ask your production partner whether 3D printing is an option for you!

Another option for the customer is to rethink the production process or to replace the possibly outdated machine, also from the point of view of efficiency. This makes sense especially for older equipment whose spare parts are individual developments. If the alternative is to retender a component, it may be cheaper to switch to a new machine whose spare parts are easier to obtain. However, this decision depends on the situation.

Optimize supplier management

The linchpin of a robust spare parts supply is supply chain management. Transparent communication is essential here. As soon as the stock of a component is nearing its end, the company should inform its suppliers and order spare parts. At the same time, the customer should be informed as soon as problems arise on the supplier side.

Building redundancies within the supplier network makes sense, but is not always practical. Non-tool components, for example, can easily be sourced from several suppliers in parallel, because the equipment needed to manufacture them is widely available.

However, the situation is different for tool-based components. Since investments in tools are associated with high costs, only one tool is ordered per component. For this reason, companies may also purchase their spare parts from only one supplier. In such cases, purchasing usually relies on a contractual solution to ensure the supply of spare parts (e.g. an after-sales agreement or a framework agreement).

If a supplier of tool-related spare parts announces that it will cease operations, the company should secure the tools for its components as quickly as possible. If the customer owns the tooling, it should withdraw it and make it available to another supplier. If the tool belongs to the supplier, it is advisable to buy it up so that spare parts can continue to be produced.

Conclusion

The low level of standardization and the dependence on tools make the supply of spare parts in the rubber and plastics sector a challenge. Forward-looking supplier management is therefore essential. Companies should always keep an eye on where there will be demand in the future and how this can be covered. If a spare part can no longer be easily reordered, the material, geometry and processes must be put to the test. This opportunity often reveals unimagined optimization potential that can be exploited with comparatively little effort.

Whitepaper:
Secure the Start of Production

Learn which factors influence your SOP!

Author: Christoph Gähler

Christoph Gähler is a group leader in the internal sales department at Jäger. With a degree in business administration (focus on sales and marketing), he has been supporting manufacturing companies in the purchasing of rubber and plastic components since July 2017.

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