One of the side effects of the recent spate of hurricanes and the disruption of the nation’s southern petrochemical processing plants is a nagging shortage of foam – that substance the industry tends to take for granted used for padding in seating, bedding and furniture.
Manufacturers and fabricators, the companies that buy it in bulk and cut it to fit any variety of uses, are all on allocations from their suppliers. And industry sources report the prices for what they can get have skyrocketed – as much as 80% since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August.
To protect its own supplies of foam – a petrochemical derivative with two major ingredients, polyol and TDI, both of which are in short supply – one unnamed manufacturer went so far as to purchase several semi-truckloads of the spongy material for shipment to its own suppliers.
“It’s obviously somewhat of a devastating situation for everyone involved right now,” confirmed John Wise, owner of Cutter’s Foam Fabricating Inc., Elkhart, Ind. “If it doesn’t start freeing up pretty soon, it will start affecting us more than it has.”
“Its the worst thing that’s ever happened to the foam business,” reports Bob Leslie, a spokesman for Teach Enterprises Inc., dba Century Foam, Elkhart, Ind., noting that the problem extends well beyond the RV sector. And the shortfall will persist, he predicts, even after more of the refineries are brought back on line due to the disruption of transportation links, including railroads.
“The worst part now is getting it from the Texas and Louisiana area up here,” Leslie said. “All the foam fabricators in the country are on allocation, if their foam suppliers are even running at all. It’s a very serious problem, and we’ve been warning people for weeks now.”
He added, “Now it’s to the point where we’re only going to work four days a week. And we’re one of the major suppliers to the RV industry. We fabricate for a lot of the furniture manufacturers. There’s about four major fabricators in this town, mostly making carpet pad and furniture in addition to numerous trim parts.”