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Not all adhesive converters are created equal. If they were, it would be easy to choose one. The fact is, each converter of pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) and non-PSA components offers distinct advantages; some have more expertise in tape slitting, while others are more proficient in complex die cutting. They may specialize in certain industries, or supply to dozens of end-use markets. Others are adept at providing specific products but don’t truly provide “solutions.”
So how do you choose? While each company is different, there are certain baseline criteria that should always be examined. A converter that is able to favorably meet these parameters may not be the optimal final choice, but certainly should be included on your “short list.”
Following are five criteria to consider in selecting a converter. Note that price is not one of the five. This is not to suggest that price should not be considered; rather, it is not included as a cautionary measure, lest the reader be seduced by a low-price option. Low price is a fleeting advantage; if price were truly a valid differentiator, all a converter would need to do is make its prices one cent lower than its competitors, and that company would become the industry leader. It’s not about price - it’s about the value that a converter can provide. High value and good service are worth paying extra for; low value and poor service are not.
1. Think GloballyAn adhesive converter that can service its customers globally is a critical consideration. Why? Because a global company can shepherd its customers from product concept through design, production and shipping. Often, a company designs a product in one part of the world and manufactures it in another. The adhesive converter must have the knowledge and the expertise to acquire the materials from one country and get them to another quickly and economically. The best converters are “thinking globally to provide solutions locally.”
As more companies take their manufacturing offshore or begin to incorporate more multi-site locations, there is a corresponding need for adhesive converters that can provide both a local sales and manufacturing presence and a global reach. By integrating all of a company’s locations, the successful converter can consolidate its customers’ supply chain and help them gain speed to market.
It should be noted that many customer companies and the converter’s raw-material suppliers might be global companies themselves. Consequently, adhesive converters should be global as well, in order to fit comfortably into the supply chain and act as an effective “link” between the global entities at each end of the supply chain.
In reality, however, few adhesive converters have the capabilities to adopt a global approach. A U.S.-based converter, for instance, may not have the worldwide reach to service the shifting customer base to Asia, where an increasing volume of automotive components is being manufactured. Global converters can be found, but the search for them may require some effort. Our global model at M&C Specialties is one that works quite effectively: we employ approximately 1,000 people worldwide and serve a variety of end-user markets from our factories in North America, the European Union, and Asia.
2. Support of the Whole ProcessOne of the general business trends we are seeing is “margin compression” throughout the supply chain. As profit margins get sliced to the bone, every supplier company must do more than simply provide a quality product or service. Suppliers should be able to help customers squeeze every cent of cost efficiency out of their entire supply chain; adhesive converters should be no exception.
To accomplish this objective, converters must be capable of understanding and working with all aspects of their customers’ operations - what M&C Specialties refers to in its own operation as “Total Process Analysis.” They need to be able to study the product they’re being asked to make and analyze the flow of that product throughout customers’ total design, manufacturing, and delivery procedure, not just their own role in the process. In doing so, the product might turn out to be more expensive to actually manufacture. However, the total operating cost may be driven down significantly as a result of the converter’s efforts.
Ultimately, the best converters are attempting to optimize customers’ processes. It’s not just a matter of converting a product: it’s essential to look downstream at the entire operation and eliminate costs in nine or 10 different areas that other companies wouldn’t even think about.
A corollary to supporting the whole process is being a single-source supplier. The convenience of being able to use one company for all forms of adhesive converting is obvious. What’s more, even if you find various companies that can each fulfill one of your converting requirements, there is still the issue of certification. Some companies may have the proper certifications necessary; other may not. Finding one company that has all of the necessary certifications is far easier.
3. Quality StandardsProviding the right materials for customers’ applications isn’t enough; they must also be provided at the quality standards and certification levels customers require. Every industry has various standards and guidelines that must be observed. Adhesive converters should be familiar with these standards and prepared to meet them at every step of the manufacturing and delivery process.
The superior adhesive converter must also be sensitive to the internal quality needs of the company for whom the product is being created. Many companies have adopted various quality programs, such as Six Sigma or TQM. Understanding the unique aspects of whatever quality program the customer is currently embracing - and being able to work within that framework - should be a non-negotiable qualification.
Being a single-source supplier is critical. Finding multiple converters that can all meet the quality standards your company has established can be time consuming, if not impossible. Plus, by using just one converter, you are assured that quality procedures are being followed in a consistent fashion the same way every time.
4. Quality SuppliersJust as the adhesive converter strives to be an integral part of a strong supplier network for its customers, the converter needs a similarly strong network. Converters with strong supplier networks have access to quality raw materials, as well as their suppliers’ own technologically advanced processes. But they also have access to their suppliers’ technical teams, business savvy and even brainstorming capabilities.
Most adhesive converters can find suppliers capable of providing them with materials of at least reasonable quality. The converters that deserve serious consideration, however, are the ones whose suppliers are willing to spend extra time helping the converters solve their customers’ problems - even problems that don’t involve the supplier.
When looking for an adhesives converter for your application, ask the converter what suppliers they use. Then do a little research: find out their technological capabilities, see how financially stable they are and check out their client list.
5. The Spirit of InnovationWhile this is perhaps the most obvious criterion, it is by no means the least important. Adhesive converters are no different than other companies. Some use the latest technology, the latest equipment, state-of-the-art materials and the most up-to-date processes. Whether a customer needs tape slitting, die-cutting, printing or anything in between, some converters have made the commitment - financial and otherwise - to being on the cutting edge of their industry.
Of course, some have not. Many converters fall somewhere in the middle. They may be outstanding from a process and materials perspective but they may be using equipment that is 30 years old. What does that mean to the customer? It means that your product may be taking longer to produce than necessary. Or it may not be up to the quality standards you expect. Or it could be costing a little more to manufacture than it should.
The fact is, a company can be the best adhesive converter in the world from a logistical perspective, but without good equipment it’s a second-tier player at best. Ask how old the converter’s equipment is. Find out how often they upgrade their equipment. See if they’ve introduced new technology to the industry. The answers will help narrow down your choices.
Also, don’t overlook the “people” angle. Make sure the company you choose has talented people who are experts in their field - not just in top management, but at all levels. Try to determine employee turnover; people who have been employed at one company for a long time tend to be more proficient at their jobs, which will ultimately be reflected in the work they perform for your company.
SummaryThese guidelines are not intended to be the last word in selecting an adhesive converter. Your company may well have its own guidelines that might not be particularly meaningful to other companies but that are critical to your decision. But these five are an excellent starting point, intended to weed out the pretenders from the contenders. After all, when it comes to adhesive converters, you’ll want one that will stick around for years to come.
For more information on M&C Specialties Co., visit www.mcspecialties.com.