- March 31, 2004, David J. Bentley Jr., RBS Technologies
The previous two columns in this space discussed items on the wish lists of converters as presented at the “Converter's Spotlight” session during the 2003 TAPPI PLACE Conference and Global Hot Melt Symposium.
The first column covered sources of information, and the second addressed relationships between converters and suppliers. This column will cover some miscellaneous items that appeared on the wish lists, in no particular order.
Nobody likes to see product changes or discontinuations. This is equally true with converters. A converter purchases a material from his supplier because he has developed a product he can sell for a profit. He has solicited business for his product. The last piece of news he will tolerate is that a certain material that is part of his product is no longer available from a supplier or is available only in an altered form.
The work a converter already has completed involved the expenditure of considerable time and money. Change to a component of his finished product almost invariably will mean the converter must now begin his process of development anew. The original work has become wasted effort and money.
In a similar vein, converters place reliability high on their wish lists of items suppliers need to offer. A film, adhesive, coating, ink, or any other material a converter is purchasing must be exactly the same each time. No batch-to-batch variation other than that originally indicated in the product specifications should exist.
On those occasions when some change is necessary, a supplier must provide new and revised information on a timely basis. He also should offer to help the converter evaluate the altered material or find an acceptable substitute. Never tell a converter a certain product is not available in its original form and end the conversation there. Provide some suggestions for alternate materials the converter can start to evaluate.
The area of regulatory affairs is one in which converters definitely want help from their suppliers. The world today seems to have regulations governing everything. And, such regulations can differ from location to location. Everyone must comply with these regulations — without exception. Practicing noncompliance is risking heavy fines, jail terms, or both.
Converters may not have an extensive staff to handle all aspects of the regulations with which they must comply. Therefore, they must call on their suppliers, who usually do have an extensive staff of personnel with specific areas of expertise in regulatory affairs. Converters want suppliers not only to share this information but also to guide them in its use.
Suppliers want to sell their wares in as large a quantity as possible. Often they restrict the amount of material one can purchase to a certain minimum level. This policy can hurt a converter, because he may have to prepare a limited amount of a new material he has developed for his customer to evaluate. For that reason, converters want suppliers to exhibit a willingness to supply reasonable trial quantities for initial evaluation and scale-up.
Most converters also want to have access to the pilot line facilities that many large materials suppliers have. Converters usually do not have the luxury of a small, undedicated line they can use for preparation of a minimal amount of material for evaluation within or at the facility of a potential customer. They need access to the pilot lines available from many suppliers.
The final item on the wish lists of converters is confidentiality. When a converter gives any information to his supplier, he does so with the expectation it will have use only within the supplier company on a need-to-know basis. Suppliers must never use this information for their own benefit or reveal it to any other individuals.
These wish list items reviewed in this and the previous two columns are really nothing more than common sense. Unfortunately, the fact that converters needed to list them at the TAPPI meeting seems to indicate the relationship between some suppliers and converters could use improvement.
The good news is that, because the items are only simple common sense, it shouldn't be difficult for business relationships to prosper. Everyone involved simply needs to use common sense!
David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org