There’s good news and bad news for all of those transportation departments and contractors who have been awaiting coatings for their unmarked roads and highways.
The good news: Supplies of Titanium Dioxide—stretched thin globally in the spring—have eased up and are returning to normal levels. The bad news: Supplies of thermoplastics—a key component of yellow and white line marking coatings—have nose-dived.
Thermoplastic production “is well below historical averages” at its facilities, Ennis Traffic Safety Solutions, a leading supplier of traffic marking paint, recently informed customers.
“The thermoplastic industry since its inception has never seen the supply problems we’ve faced this season,” John Anderson, Ennis’ global director, wrote the company’s customers on Sept. 16.
‘Shut Out of Striping’
Worse yet, the thermoplastic shortage is hitting road marking just as fall begins, which will increase the squeeze on long-stalled road projects in colder climates.
Application temperatures for both paint and thermoplastic must be 50 degrees F and rising, and lead times on thermoplastic orders are currently running at 10-12 weeks, said Tom McSwain, Ennis’ Eastern U.S. sales manager and director of governmental affairs.
“Clearly, there will be some roads in Northern climates that will not be striped this year,” McSwain said. “We anticipate a better supply in October, but again, the Northern states will be shut out of the striping season very quickly.”
Wrote Anderson: “The fact of the matter is that we all have an increasingly narrow window of time to make up for lost volume this season.”
Problems in US, Overseas
Ennis had expected its supply levels to return to normal by September, Anderson told customers.
“Unfortunately, we have not made the progress we had hoped in the sourcing of key resins for thermoplastic production,” he wrote.
Anderson cites problems in both imports and domestic production. “Ennis made the commitment to supplement our needs with additional quantities of import resin,” he explains. “With the tightening federal restrictions of imports, there have been significant delays in releasing these materials at our U.S. ports.
“Our domestic producers expected that additional allocations would become available as we came out of the heat of August. The domestic supply has not freed up as anticipated, given the continued demand for these chemicals in other markets.”
Several other thermoplastic manufacturers did not respond to request for comment.
TiO2, MMA Shortages
Global shortages of methyl methacrylate (MMA) and titanium dioxide (TiO2), two critical ingredients in acrylic-based traffic paint, stalled shovel-ready road projects worldwide throughout the spring and summer.
MMA was in such short supply in May and June that the two leading global producers of MMA products, Lucite International and The Dow Chemical Co., both declared force majeures and began rationing supplies.
Dow lifted its force majeure during the summer and now reports that production is running “full up,” according to Carmen Ferrigno, communications leader for Dow Coating Materials. Lucite did not respond to a request for comment.
Ennis also reports balancing in the traffic paint situation. McSwain says raw materials for traffic marking paint “have begun to come back to historical supply levels, and the paint supply is getting better.” Orders that are eight to 10 weeks old are being filled.
The Associated General Contractors of America, whose members were reporting project delays nationwide in the spring and summer, said Monday (Sept. 20) that paint supplies appear to have stabilized.
‘The Bullwhip Effect’
Ferrigno noted that raw materials shortages worldwide have become more and more common in recent years, as the global economy shifted from languishing recession to accelerating recovery. Production of epoxies and acrylates have also experienced recent worldwide disruption, he said.
“A lot of companies, as the recession hit, took their inventories down,” said Ferrigno. “We did; everybody did. When the rebound happened, it hit across so many technology platforms that you could see 40 to 50 disruptions across the raw material landscape. In the supply chain, people had a phrase for it: the bullwhip effect.”
On the other hand, he added, “anyone who can find a substitute for TiO2 would be in a good position, and we’re working on that.”