The Inflexible Problem of the Shortage of Nylon

Nylon fibers under the microscope and in polarized light.

A knot of nylon fibers under the microscope and in polarized light.

Whether you’re an in the trenches engineer, a supply chain professional, or a front of the house sales representative, you’ve probably heard the rumblings of an impending crisis when it comes to global Nylon supplies. And while the temptation to throw up your hands and raid the local hosiery aisle may be strong, solutions to the current increased demand meets decreased supply conundrum likely isn’t going to be that simple. Here we delve into the complex causes behind the stretchy crisis and the potential short and long term impact we foresee to the plastic fastener market.

The Sixty Second Nylon Supply Shortage Summary

When Nylon was first introduced in the 1940s as a flexible alternative to silk, few anticipated the material to grow in use beyond the textile market. Today, fabric application utilizes only a third of the global Nylon supply while industries from automotive to plastic manufacturers have found its properties as an additive increasingly useful. Adding the specialized nylon 6/6 to plastic structures allows them to become resistant to oil and moisture and withstands temperatures up to 260 degrees Celsius while maintaining structural toughness.

While its incredibly versatile, Nylon 6/6 is also exceptionally difficult to manufacture. Due to the highly technical production process, there are only a handful of players with the infrastructure and know-how to manufacture adiponitrile, one of the main chemical components used to make Nylon 6/6. Of these companies, many individual plants have seen catastrophic events such as fires, labor stoppage, hurricanes, and even an explosion which eliminated what would have been the entry of a new player to the market. Each of these unfortunate events has caused a cascade of supply issues, leading to the current shortage and corresponding skyrocketing in the cost of Nylon.

Can’t You Just Find a Replacement?

While substituting individual ingredients may work for grandma’s secret cookie recipe, it turns out that technique doesn’t work as well when manufacturing plastics. Plastic component parts must meet individual specifications for qualities such as heat tolerance, moisture retention, and stress load and adding different Nylon formulas or other substitute chemicals requires the reconfiguration of numerous design plans. Plastic Fasteners, for example, are often used to secure cabling in moisture-prone areas such as basements, which makes them poor candidates for Nylon 6/6 such as Nylon 6 which is prone to expand or warp when exposed to liquids. Other substitutes, such as the exotic Nylon 4/6, 4/10, or 6/10, may match the qualities of Nylon 6/6 but are more expensive. In addition, manufacturing processes would need to be modified to account for these different compounds which eliminate them as short term alternative options.

What’s This Mean for My Nylon Fastener Needs?

While plastic fasteners may seem simple to design and produce, as mentioned above there are a variety of product specifications manufacturers must take into account in order to deliver a functional and durable product. The shortage of Nylon 6/6, one of the primary components used in the manufacturing of fasteners, causes supply chain shortages and significant cost increases that are passed along to suppliers and end users.

In the short term, some varieties of fasteners may face backstock issues until companies can implement suitable substitutes into their manufacturing process. The good news is that chemical companies acknowledge the demand for adiponitrile and the resulting Nylon 6/6 and are working round the clock to ramp up production. The Nylon supply situation is, well, elastic and stockpiles will eventually reach normal levels with a healthier industry that is better prepared to weather future storms thanks to the implementation of alternative chemicals and production techniques.

In the meantime, some products have already increased substantially in cost and may continue to do so over the coming months. As plastics companies face quotas of Nylon, large projects will need additional ordering lead time in order to ensure stock is on hand. Working closely with your trusted and professional plastic fastener distributor will help to navigate the current shortage and keep your business needs up and running until the Nylon market recovers.

Need Help with Plastic Fasteners? Start with us

E & T Fasteners sells high quality industrial fasteners and components with a wide variety of materials, including nylon plastic fasteners. To discuss your particular project and the uses of plastic or metal fasteners within your application, please feel free to contact us.