Corinna Petry headshot
From the Editor
By Corinna Petry

uring a candid roundtable discussion at the Copper and Brass Servicenter Association’s fall summit in Tampa, Florida, participants addressed a host of issues around the pull and push of demand versus supply.

“Demand for every single one of our strip products is through the roof,” said one member. “As a mill, we aren’t having constraints on raw materials we buy but there are [shortages with] labor and equipment. Most of our markets operated in survive, not thrive mode for 20 years, and we weren’t investing in our capacity. Now the market is calling for more capacity but it doesn’t happen overnight.” He believes there will be more capital investment in domestic copper and brass production very soon.

Another participant wondered, however, “How much of this [demand] is real? To go big [with capital expansions] takes a long time. Do you invest but then find you’ve missed the boat? Can you create capacity but also create efficiency?”

The CBSA mill member countered that he thinks the demand growth is real, especially as the world seeks sustainable solutions like clean power.

At the service center end, a participant noted, “Stocking used to be a dirty word, then COVID hit and everyone was short [on supply].”

Regarding the effort to find balance, another service center member said, “Aluminum, carbon and stainless mills were all constrained at the same time. We were an inventory-heavy company. We were well positioned but we regret not having doubled our mill orders.”

A red metals manufacturer said his 2021 book of business is double that of 2020. “Daily bookings are double, volumes are double, receivables are three times the value we saw last year. We make 1,100 distinct products per month so we have stock, but our inventory is down 30 percent from last year.” Another CBSA member commented, “If automotive was not constrained by the chip shortage, this would be even worse.”

At this point, a second mill executive said, “we are all expediters. Right now it’s hard to buy our products. It’s hard to hire for certain jobs,” particularly anything in the electromechanical field. “Companies are paying sign-on and retention bonuses and paying overtime.”

A Canadian service center executive reported, “We start new employees at $20 an hour.” To compete with other industries for skilled labor, she said, “we are finding people who want to be apprentices.”

Inflation is very real. “Costs are up even for boxes, pallets and packaging materials,” the mill executive said. “We are reconsidering how much we use is actually necessary, We are constantly assessing all inputs to prevent sone little part from shutting us down.”

Some of the items participants said are in short supply—and which have seen sharp price increases—include O-rings, motors, shipping containers and valves.

Trucking is beleaguered by a shortage of equipment and drivers. “Trying to ship less-than-truckload domestically is crazy. Few will take small loads,” a Texas service center executive said. “Freight claims are up, due to inexperienced drivers and handlers. We have had to recut bars [that were damaged]. We had carriers not show up or who showed up in seven days rather than three,” he said.

Many metals suppliers are in expansion mode. Please see our Hot Sheet news section, page 12. Our cover story this month identifies sone of the latest applications for additive manufacturing technology. Enjoy the issue.