While the news stations were covering the effects on homeowners who lost power for days and suffered excessively cold temperatures inside their homes because of February’s winter storms in the south, factory production in all types of industries was severely impacted. These winter storms caused manufacturers in the southern U.S.; including Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, to stop production and send workers home as they faced damage and loss of critical supplies necessary for production. One of the harder hit areas are factories that depend on chemical products and they are now facing challenging supply and demand issues.
With many manufacturers unable to complete orders and ship their products, the majority of the polyurethane market is operating under Force Majeure. This simply means that unforeseeable circumstances are preventing them from fulfilling their commitments and contracts.
In the restaurant equipment industry, we will see this in the refrigeration category. Polyurethane is utilized as the insulation within commercial refrigerators and freezers, walk-ins and other commercial foodservice products that have foam insulation. The shortage of polyurethane is adversely impacting the production of refrigeration products or other equipment and supplies that use foam products. Foodservice operators that are purchasing these items should anticipate seeing extended lead times, back-orders and shortages of these items.
While you may believe that the impact of this would be reduced because of overseas manufacturing of polyurethane and other foam materials, but that isn’t likely to be the case. Polyurethane and other foam materials, like foam insulation, that is used by factories in the United States are made primarily in the us in areas where the factories that use the product in their manufacturing are located. This is because shipping the lightweight, but bulky, material overseas is not efficient.
Along with refrigeration products, factories that produce bedding, cars, packaging and many other commonplace items use polyfoam are suffering the same challenging supply and demand issues. These winter storms will be disrupting a wide variety of industries for months after the storms have passed.
Along with supply issues, prior to reopening many of the factories that have closed will need to undergo inspections and these may face delays due to COVID-19. As we all watch the U.S. chemical industry to see if it will fully recover, if you’ve got a few years under your belt, you know that the industry and market will eventually level out and a state of normalcy will return. Until that time, it will be easier for all of us to face if we extend extra patience to our partners in foodservice equipment manufacturing that are in the midst of these challenges and dealing with these outside difficulties as well as rallying around them and extending support when they are about to reopen and put these shortages behind them.