Sit on It: Foam Shortage Concerning Suppliers

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
sit on it foam shortage concerning suppliers

You’ve no doubt heard about the chip shortage sweeping the automotive industry. But have you heard of the foam shortage? That’s right, there’s a dazzling new deficit of supplies in the manufacturing sector and it’s affecting your seats. The semiconductor crisis is so winter. Next season’s hottest supply trend involves those lovely little petrochemicals necessary for foam production.

Texas storms that left millions without power last month, during one of the coldest winters in the region, could have reportedly shorted oil refinery output to a worrying degree. There is now an underabundance of refinery byproducts used to make propylene oxide, which is required to produce polyurethane foam, which is used to manufacture car seats.

While no seating manufacturer has yet announced production stops, Crain’s Business reported that at least one supplier said they’d be out of materials by Monday.

“A lot of production is down still for oil refinery byproduct and in a few days no one is going to be able to make [propylene oxide],” an anonymous executive told the outlet. “Everyone is scrambling. This problem is bigger and closer than the semiconductor issue.”

Others, including one we spoke to, expressed concerns that a foam shortage could start impacting production in a few weeks.

On Thursday, Automotive News interviewed a purchasing executive with a major automaker who also expressed concerns that it might not be much longer before the matter impacted vehicle assembly. “It’s currently a threat, not a given,” they said. “The first impact is the second half of March. … I assume everyone is looking for alternative supplies globally.”

Not all seating suppliers are worried, however. Faurecia said it said it has gone unimpeded thus far, while others had no comment. The situation appears to be similar with automakers. Most are on yellow alert and opening channels with seating suppliers. But none of them have reported any production problems yet. While that seems a good sign, automakers and suppliers typically announce shutdowns a few days in advance. Everyone’s keeping their fingers crossed that won’t be necessary.

[Image: Volkswagen Group]

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3 of 23 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 07, 2021

    @mcs--Good one. No padding necessary.

    • Mcs Mcs on Mar 07, 2021

      They could 3d print padding with a lot of industrial grade 3d printers. Use TPU filament, design 2 surfaces about an inch or more apart, then start playing with the fill settings to connect the two for the best pad. I've been thinking about using the same tactic to make vibration isolation pads. TPU would be great. PTFE might be good too. For me, making just a few isn't a problem, but for mass production, it gets tougher. Probably go with multiple heads in a single line and a continuous linear bed. Use either TPU or PTFE. I can see it now, automakers sending vans out to scrounge for soda/pop bottles to convert to filament for seat cushions when there's a shortage.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 07, 2021

    Well that would solve the problem of the number of soda and water bottles going into landfills and resolve a material shortage.

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