A spike in demand has led to shortages of some types of plastic sheets.
Government guidance has advised retailers to install fitted plastic screens at checkouts and counters, and other workplaces have also been advised to use screens to separate and protect staff. However, the sudden surge in demand has caused a shortage of the plastic used to make the screens. Industry body the British Plastics Federation said some companies are facing difficulties in sourcing materials, and that it is monitoring the situation.
It is thought that demand is about five times higher than usual, and that some factories have been unable to suddenly ramp up production.
Alastair Grant of Panel House, which supplies a range of safety solutions, told Toy World: “We have found that it is becoming increasingly difficult to source the right materials, but that there is still supply out there. Plastic sheets come in a number of thicknesses and it seems that a few are particularly hard to get hold of, especially in the UK. We’ve started adapting our designs to ensure that we can build great products using thinner or thicker material than we would usually choose. This allows us to adapt depending on the material we can get hold of. Of course, moving to a thicker material isn’t ideal as costs increase exponentially with thickness. We are doing our best to maintain consistent prices, but we have experienced large price increases from our suppliers due to the shortage of supply.”
Alistair explained that his company was under pressure due to the speed with which companies were expecting orders to be fulfilled. Short lead times, sometimes less than seven days, force Panel House to manufacture in the UK, which is more expensive and limited. Where it has the luxury of working with a 14-20 day lead time however, the company is able to push the work out to Europe, which means the right materials can be sourced at competitive prices.
“Our experience is that businesses have been holding off making any decisions on protective screens until there is more clarity from the government on when they will be allowed to reopen and whether screens will be necessary,” continued Alistair. “I think, however, the penny is starting to drop that the new normal, at least for the time being, is going to look like speaking with friends, colleagues and customers from behind plastic screens. For the next few months, as we pass through the peak of demand, we expect plastic will be at a premium. To meet demand, it will be necessary for manufacturers to ramp up production and at the same time for product design companies such as Panel House to innovate on how to enable social distancing in our workplaces and public spaces using alternative designs and materials.”