By on April 19, 2012

Officially, carmakers around the world are putting on their best “what me worry” faces and say that they are unaffected by a sudden shortage of a key component, caused by a factory explosion in Germany. Behind closed doors, they are freaking out. Carmakers and suppliers met in Detroit for an emergency summit under the auspices of the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIGP). After the meeting, the first admissions of impending doom surfaced.

In a statement issued after the meeting, AIGP said:

“It is now clear that a significant portion of the global production capacity of PA-12 (nylon 12) has been compromised. In the automotive industry, PA-12 is used pervasively in coatings and connector applications for fuel handling and braking systems. These are highly engineered products produced via very complex manufacturing processes.”

Cyclododecatriene, or CDT, is an vital ingredient in the manufacture of resin that is used in essential automotive components, such as brake and fuel lines. Researcher IHS said in a comment after the meeting:

“The impression is that this is very much a rapidly developing situation and the full implications of the stoppage of CDT production has yet to be properly understood. However, the rapid response of the US industry suggests that problem is serious and has no easy or quick fix.

 If suitable alternative materials already existed, they would already be in widespread use and there would be no discussion of a crisis. How easy it will be to find an alternative resin that does not use CDT is open to some conjecture. Given the component testing and approval processes employed by the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, it is unlikely to be the work of a moment to find or develop a substitutable alternative material.”

In other words, as noted yesterday, while it can take several months for CDT production to be restored, looking for a replacement will most likely take longer. Even DuPont, supplier of replacement candidate polyphthalamide (PPA) is careful. DuPont spokesperson Carole Davies said:

“We’re working very closely with our customers to understand the issue and where we have materials that can help. There are a number of solutions that automakers are looking at. There are other materials that some automakers use, some don’t. It’s just a matter of finding alternatives that work, getting them qualified and, hopefully, they’ll be enough at the end of the day to get everyone through it.”

Participants of the AIGP meeting characterized the mood as “extremely serious.” They noted “significant concern over the potential for production disruptions in the component industry, with obvious knock-on effects for the OEMs.” The other worry: The material is not used exclusively by the automotive sector. Demand from other manufacturing industries could trigger a run on the ersatz-CDT, if and when it has been found.

 

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18 Comments on “CDT Cartastrophe: No Quick Fix In Sight...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    Oh well…back to good old metal fuel and brake lines…how bad can it be?

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      The flexible part of your brake lines needs some kind of laminate even if it’s braided stainless steel (and your brake lines need a flexible segment because the brake caliper is unsprung but the master cylinder is not).

      All-metal fuel lines are possible and you see them in any “flex-fuel” car but from a design perspective they’re kind of a pain in the ass.

      Damn, and just when I needed a new front brake line for my bike, too. I’d better snap one up quick.

      • 0 avatar
        Contrarian

        Rubber. Isn’t that what the flexible part was years ago?

        This may be an industry panic, but it’s not the end of the automobile – even short-term.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Customers generally don’t like having to replace untreated rubber brake lines every two years. It’s one of those things that people used to just put up with, like dicking around with one’s carburetor jetting after moving to a different altitude.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Maybe GM will go back to brake lines that rot out causing complete brake failure…

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    PA6-12 is everywhere in a car, not just brakes. It molds well and is durable in harsh exterior environments, so a lot of connectors, sensor housings, etc. use it. The OEMs probably don’t use it a lot, but this will really hurt their suppliers.

  • avatar
    GoFaster58

    This is a part of what technology buys you. A shortage of meterials and more expensive vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      One could have made the same statement shortly after the invention of the wheel.

      Feel free to embrace your inner luddite: I’m sure you could still use a horse if you were so inclined.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Cars are cheaper than ever for the amount of features and performance, and waiting times for delivery are far, far shorter than they’ve ever been.

      So, no.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @psar:

        You are absolutely correct. A friend once worked for Chrysler, and he knew what certain components in a car were capable of – like A/C for example. You do really get your moneys’ worth for what even the most basic car is capable of.

        No complaints here.

        One thing that bugs and annoys me about this whole rare materials thing:

        Why, for as vital as this ONE component is, WHY is there only ONE location that manufactures it? Hello? Earth-to-industry? Is anyone home?

        Wise companies always have THREE vendors of a particular product to protect themselves as to pricing and availability to keep the lines moving.

        Someone, or an entire board or management group needs to be fired, in my opinion, but I’m sure I don’t know the whole story here. Does anybody?

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Sometimes it’s hard to chase every sub-sub-subvendor down. There’s probably three suppliers of brake lines that have three suppliers of rubber each and, whoops! all nine rubber suppliers are buying CDT from the same firm.

        After the tsunami last year, it was discovered that three independent ECU vendors were all using a microcontroller from the same firm. Whoops!

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    “If suitable alternative materials already existed, they would already be in widespread use and there would be no discussion of a crisis.”

    This is not necessarily true. The meaning of suitable may only be related to price rather than function. Then again, it may be mostly related to function.

    Totally agree, that if there were no predecessor material already approved, then the materials and component prove out processes may have to be short cut. The pressure will be on the materials and purchasing staffs to make “best guesses” as to what will work and where to scrounge it, and for those who guess wrong, increased warranty cost and possible recalls will be the dividend.

    If the material is not easily, or timely, substitutable, then we may see a real example of what would have happened during the dark days of 2009, when the fear of “for want of a nail, etc., my kingdom was lost,” drove the government to prevent the collapse of the supply base by taking quick and decisive role in attenuating a massive disruption in the us auto industry by putting cllc and GM on life support.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Speaking as an engineer who used to work at a heavy-truck components manufacturer that makes a lot of plastic injection-molded parts, this is a big deal.

    Anytime you change material composition, you typically have to do a full course of validation testing which includes life-cycle testing, environmental testing, shake and vibration, and so on.

    Not to mention going through the Production Parts Approval Process (PPAP, or its equivalent) at each of your customers.

    All of the above can take several months and a bucket-load of money.

    Our supply chain has gone global now, and it’s more fragile than ever (single-sources are common, transit distances are long, and just-in-time has reduced or eliminated inventories at every point in the supply chain).

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      And since we’re dealing with brake components, if anything goes wrong in the search for a replacement coating, or someone sells some sort of counterfeit material, it’ll be Toyotagate all over again, complete with scandalous news stories and recalls.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        Toyotagate became what it was due to a mix of willful and sluggish delay in its responsibility to report recall able issues within a short time period. Had they reported and begun to work thru their problems, the issue (actually several over half a decade) would never gotten out of hand the way it did.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Back in the early 90′s there was a fire at a Sumitomo plant in Japan which made the moulding compound used in microchips and other semiconductors.
    Panic ensued, and although the replacemnt materials performed poorly, the silver lining was that Sumitomo re-built their factory in record time, and other players entered the market.

    Now, I’m not comparing brake components to microcontrollers…the point I’m driving across is that other chemical companies will wake up to the realization that there is money to be made, and the monopoly of this particular German plant will be gone.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      This supplier is not likely to be a monopolist, unless he has a trick process for producing this material. In the industry everybody knows who the competition, and basically knows what the other guys price level is anyway.

      If his completion had a competitive business plan, they would have eaten into his business.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    Someone else will pick up slack….but believe me, the resin guys take advantage of any “bad news stories” like no other industry. They ALWAYS make sure they are selling to the highest possible penny per pound — and could care less about any upstream effect it would have on demand destruction etc. They are all getting better at “controlling supply” to ensure if it ever exceeds demand, it is for a very brief period of time!


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