Glittering new cars will return to the world’s roads, as Merck has resumed production of the critical pigment additive Xirallic, which is made only at the company’s facility in Japan.
Normal operations at the Xirallic production site in Onahama resumed May 8, the company announced last week. The company also said it would expand production of the additive to a facility in Germany, to avert future supply interruptions.
Japan’s catastrophic tsunami of March 11 severely damaged the plant, 28 miles from the stricken Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station, and forced the evacuation of employees and area residents. The plant was shut down indefinitely for repairs, interrupting automotive manufacturing worldwide.
Car Makers Impacted
Xirallic is an enhanced aluminum oxide added to pigments and sold to paint companies worldwide. The metallic additive gives a glittering shine to red, black and other paint colors and is made exclusively in the Onahama plant.
|Tuxedo Black—Henry Ford’s favorite color—will return to Ford products.|
The cut-off in Xirallic supplies and other shortages affected manufacturing at Toyota Motors, Chrysler LLC, GM, Ford Motor and other car makers. All told, automakers were expected to lose production of about 600,000 vehicles globally.
Ford cut off orders for vehicles in Tuxedo Black and three variations of red. Chrysler Group LLC restricted orders on vehicles in 10 colors, including two variations of black and three of red.
John Krafcik, head of North America for Hyundai Motor, told Reuters News Service that the company would begin using mineral mica instead of Xirallic paint. And Honda told the news agency that it was looking for a suitable replacement for the paint and to reconfigure its model line with alternative exterior paints.
Repairs Ahead of Schedule
The plant began recovery and repair work on April 4 and completed the work ahead of schedule, Merck said in a statement.
“Merck is continually monitoring all public directives regarding radiation levels in order to ensure the safety of its employees,” the company said in a statement. “The company is also testing the products being shipped from Merck Japan to ensure that they comply fully with all regulations and safety standards.”
Merck said that it had made “exceptional progress” in restoring the plant’s external infrastructure and that the company expected to return to its regular production output in June.
New Facility Planned
Merck also announced that it would establish a second production line for Xirallic effect pigments. That plant, in Germany, will offer additional capacity for Xirallic by the end of 2011, boosting future supply reliability for those products as of 2012. The location of the German plant was not disclosed.
“Our top priority is to ensure as soon as possible an uninterrupted supply of Xirallic pigments to our customers around the world,” said Peter Halas, head of Pigments & Cosmetics for Merck. “The resumption of production in Onahama is a major milestone toward this objective.”
He added: “I would like to thank our employees in Japan for their tremendous efforts and express my appreciation for their outstanding engagement. Xirallic products remain a pillar of our Pigments business. The measures and the progress that we have made in recent weeks underscore this commitment.”
Automakers Reviewing Supply Chain
More than pigments were affected by the quake and tsunami. Parts shortages halted or impeded production by automakers and suppliers, and many have begun reviewing parts-supply lines, The Detroit News reports.
"Many vehicle manufacturers are taking a close look at single-sourcing scenarios," Michael Robinet, an analyst at forecast firm IHS Automotive, told the newspaper.