Onshoring Textile Laminate Programs on the Rise
Our team at Beckmann Converting stands ready to process your onshoring program materials through toll converting. Rapid response with Hand Trials, Roll Trials, Laminating Specification Development, customized Quality plans, and other support services are channeled to develop a laminating production process specifically for your product.
For additional information, please contact Ray Piascik at 518-842-0073 ext. 615. Or, complete a Needs Assessment Form at https://www.beckmannconverting.com/resources/needs-assessment-form/
It is no secret that US companies have been moving manufacturing operations offshore for the past number of decades. The attraction of lower cost raw materials and labor, improving infrastructure and know-how, and more open economic policies were too hard for many to resist. Establishing a manufacturing presence overseas, and then exporting goods back to the US, Canada, and Mexico, also bought more time for those new local markets to develop.
At Beckmann Converting, we are seeing a significant influx so far in 2022 of active projects aimed at “onshoring” textile manufacturing programs back to North America.
The driving force for our customers and prospects has been the volatile disruptions in global supply chain and transportation. Certainly the US has seen increases in fuel prices and overall shipping costs in North America. Outside of a few short term availability issues and price spikes, the logistics situation here is relatively stable and prices have moderated. International logistics on the other hand has been far more volatile and unpredictable, and remains so.
Signs of the Times
We have a customer in the UK that ships a container of raw materials to us early in the fourth quarter every year. The laminate is for a highly specialized medical product, so handling at every stage is critical. After we produce the laminate, it is then shipped back to Europe for additional downstream converting. In September of 2021, the raw materials were prepped as usual and containerized. US east coast ports had already been backing up with processing incoming containers, and no reasonable routings were available. After weeks of effort, an opening was found which would take the container to the Port of Montreal. Although it arrived on time and passed through customs, the container remained in Montreal for weeks because the trucking pool in place to move containers across the border into the US could not handle the sudden port volume increases.
Once we received the materials, we were able to expedite processing and had the finished laminate all packaged up and ready for pickup at our loading dock. Our customer discovered that there were no containers available on the East coast for return to Europe. After 10 weeks of effort, a container was secured and the material made its way to its final destination.
Long Term Trends Undermining Offshoring?
Most of our customers have told us similar stories about impossible logistics, and the accompanying high costs that are being incurred. But they also report that a number of the important factors that spurred offshoring originally have all but disappeared. Wages have increased rapidly in those countries, social demands on their governments and economies have grown, and more sophisticated local companies have emerged that are now able to develop and manufacture similar products for their own markets.
Critical Tasks for Onshoring Projects
For products that are already in production and sold into North American markets, the first hurdle for the onshoring company is to secure a reliable supply chain for raw materials within North America. If the product involves a multiple layer textile composite, that company might turn to their Research and Development teams to perform a design review to see if their own factories can supply comparable materials or if they have to look to other suppliers, or both. The goal is to secure a reliable and consistent supply chain for the materials. The same holds for any fabricating, converting and packaging operations that are needed. If internal capabilities don’t exist or if they are fully subscribed, the company will look to partner with North American companies that can respond and meet their needs. This can still be a challenge for some materials and operations that continue to be in high demand as a result of the pandemic impacts.
The onshoring trends are also accompanying brand new products emerging from R&D efforts. Companies that had a philosophy of developing new products in the US but then implementing sourcing and manufacturing overseas are now redirecting to North American production.
One Customer's Path to Onshoring a Product Program
Late summer in 2019, we were approached by a major global company who requested us to run lamination trials for a filtration media. The premise at the time was to “onshore” manufacturing of the product to fulfill demand in North America and some South American markets. The trials were successful, but the company put the project on hold in mid-2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic was exploding. About a year later, we were contacted again by the company’s Research group and they wanted to resurrect the program. The decision was made to manufacture one of the nonwovens in-house and source a second nonwoven with a large, well established manufacturer with plants in the US. The idea was to eliminate reliance on offshore suppliers. Additionally, a secondary goal was to work towards incremental quality improvements to increase filtration characteristics. At the writing of this article, we are executing a pre-production laminating run to a formal specification with the produced laminate to be used to validate downstream converting equipment and processes.
What is the Future of Onshoring?
It remains to be seen if the recent uptick in onshoring will transform into a new strategy companies will employ for the longer term. Ongoing international conflicts are escalating and new ones seem to be emerging every day. Logistics professionals are already predicting that major international bottlenecks are likely over the next several months. Just today, the Director of the Port of Los Angeles reported having 35,000 containers on the docks earmarked for rail service. A new round of severe labor shortages is rapidly extending the backlog.
Global geopolitical, social and economic trends seem to be converging in ways that make onshoring a wise choice.