Extreme cold, snow and ice that hit the U.S. and led to catastrophic failures of the Texas electric grid are continuing to impact molders in the region.
Even companies that never lost power during the worst of the outages were asked to curtail manufacturing to reserve electricity for residential customers and critical facilities, with shutdowns starting Feb. 13. Shipments to and from many molding facilities have been delayed.
Houston-based Birch Plastics Inc. proactively shut down production Feb. 13 to keep its employees off roads ahead of the massive winter storm.
Due to power grid failures, the company was forced to stay shut down until power returned to the plant early Feb. 18, Brandon Cleary, vice president of operations at Birch, told Plastics News.
"All manufacturing came to a screeching halt," Cleary said. "There's no 18-wheelers. … There's no movement with materials coming in. The packaging houses haven't been performing, railroads aren't running. All the resin and raw ingredients we need, things ready to be picked up that were scheduled to be shipped out this week, it's just not happening."
Birch's extrusion department remained down as of Feb. 18 because about 80 feet of pipe supplying water to its extruders "busted," Cleary said. "Right now I have employees scouring the city, wherever is open, trying to find plumbing supplies to get the water pump back up so we can turn on our extruders."
Cleary said he hoped they will be able to find supplies in time to get extrusion production back online by Feb. 21, "but we're so far behind."
"Tonight there's supposed to be another hard freeze," he said. "Plumbing supplies are very limited and the glue, if it's under 50° it doesn't really set right."
Intermittent power outages since Feb. 15 have "greatly" impacted recycling company Alandro Plastic Resources LLC's factory in Brownsville, on the U.S.-Mexico border, said Jorge Alvarez, managing member of the post-industrial resin recycler.
"With power coming in and out for the last four days, we really could not project any finish goods or fulfill pending orders," he said in a Feb. 18 email.
The company sources plastic scrap from manufacturing companies on the Mexican side of the border, but those sites had to shut down because the region depends on natural gas from Texas to power its electrical grid, he said.
"Therefore our inflow of material to be processed also took a hard hit," he said. "Right now we are at 75 percent production. It will take until next week without disruptions to stabilize."
Alvarez said the company's also seeing higher freight costs with fuel getting more expensive and driver availability limited, and he predicted prices on some resins would increase because of the shutdowns.
CEO Jeff Applegate at Texas Injection Molding LLC in Houston said his company had minimal impact and had its power most of the time.
"We had a couple broken supply lines that were repaired and had to shut down last night due to rolling power shutdowns. All considered we did very well," he wrote in a Feb. 18 email.
Houston-based Masterduct Inc., an industrial hose and ducting manufacturer, fell about four days behind on production, according to Ross Blanford, sales director.
The company was without power Feb. 14-18 and experienced water pressure issues.
"There were a lot of water main breaks in Houston. You can't bring employees back [because] there's no water and the electricity might go off any minute," Blanford said in a phone interview.
The remote sales force also lost access to inventory and other company systems, which hampered their ability to serve customers, Blanford added.
Molders in Texas said both companies and employees were facing similar issues related to intermittent access to power and water. Just a third of Birch's employees returned to work Feb. 18, Cleary said. Many were unable to get to work because of the effect of the storm on their own homes and families.
"Most of our employees still don't have power, water, one of the two or both. We have some in warming shelters," he said. "We've had families coming to use the showers here because they haven't had a shower all week."
Birch normally stocks "hurricane rations" like bottled water at the plant to send home with employees when storms hit. "Luckily we still had some of that left over," Cleary said.
Because of the damage power outages have caused to water systems, water isn't safe to drink from the tap, and the demand has cleared bottled water off store shelves.
"It's basically like we had a hurricane come through here except instead of tornadoes and floods, it's ice and snow, which we're not used to," Cleary added. "If you can get into a grocery store, it's about a three-hour wait to get inside and then there's nothing in there hardly."
Cleary himself didn't have power at home until Feb. 17.
Eatery Essentials, a recycled content PET foodservice maker in Dallas, said even though it had no power outages at the facility, its workers were impacted.
"This past week has been a challenge for employees, but we have had no power outages at the plant," Charles Pickering, vice president of sales and marketing, said.
The company uses renewable sources such as wind and solar power for at least 30 percent of its energy supply, and Pickering noted it had no blackouts.
Blaming the energy grid
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the power grid for most of Texas, has come under scrutiny because of the power cuts.
"There's a lot of anger in the state right now," Cleary said, over the lack of infrastructure upgrades to Texas' energy grid. "They never winterized anything … but since it's not law, the big energy companies didn't do it and now we're all suffering."
While the El Paso, Texas, region is outside ERCOT's area and didn't suffer the same extent of outages, it is still facing complications, Charles A. Sholtis, CEO of Plastic Molding Technology Inc., said.
"We are being impacted by FedEx not able to deliver," Sholtis said in an email. "The pandemic, cold vortex, wildfires, resin shortages, price increases, port delays from overseas ... we are seeing it all over the last 12 months!"
"We have orders in the pipeline that we were supposed to make the last four days and we've talked about working Saturday to get caught up," Blanford said Feb. 18. "Many of our customers and the end users have also been closed so I am sure our lead times will be impacted."
Other customers outside of Texas, however, were wondering why their emails to Masterduct were bouncing back undelivered.
"They don't realize the extent what's going on down here," Blanford said.
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