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Tough Markets Require Strong Supply Chain Partners

Featured Product from Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals, Inc.

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In 2024, Ulbrich will celebrate a century in business. And in those 100 years, markets have soared, and they've crashed. Overnight, ideas have turned into industries, and business empires have gone extinct. Shortages have given way to surpluses, surcharges have risen and fallen, and on occasion, steel mill production strikes have affected supply.

Since 2008's great recession, the steel industry has faced particularly challenging factors - from COVID to commodity volatility, ever-increasing lead times, and much more. Consolidations and closings abound as melts shift their inventory from common alloys to special metals, increasing demand and necessitating allocations.

Some of these market factors are predictable and allow time for contingency planning. Others are disruptive events that leave manufacturers scrambling to find the metal they need to operate their business. These challenges underscore why it's crucial to select a steel supply chain partner able to keep material supply flowing under even the most challenging circumstances.

In the steel industry, supply chain partners include precision re-roll mills and stainless steel & special metal service centers that provide manufacturers the strip, foil, and wire needed for production. In addition to ensuring a reliable steel supply, these re-rollers and service centers can also augment internal manufacturing capabilities.

Ultimately, whether a logistics or steel supply chain partner can handle changing market conditions comes down to these factors:

  1. Their Capabilities as a Development Partner
  2. Their Expertise
  3. Their Relationships
  4. Their Company Culture

More Flexible MOQs to Fuel Product Development

The mills at the top of the supply chain are melting upwards of 250,000 pounds every single hour of every single day. This means that even if you're buying 50,000 pounds of stainless a year, which isn't a minuscule amount, you aren't even close to the minimum order quantity (MOQ) required for them to be a direct supplier.

These scale problems create supply chain challenges when purchasing smaller quantities of alloys to develop new applications, particularly given today's shrinking allocations and lengthening lead times. If your application requires specific material properties, it only compounds these challenges.

To ensure that your needs get attention in a challenging marketplace, consider partnering with a supplier — a service center or re-roll mill — with critical mass. These supply chain partners can use their significant spending power to pass along better pricing, better delivery performance, and other advantages necessary to fuel the development of new products. Development often requires a small amount of metal with specialized material properties, delivered fast and at a fair price. In this market, that can be nearly impossible without a supply chain partner that grants you a seat at the table with the melt mills.

Look for Deep (and Wide) Expertise When Sourcing Alloys

Material suppliers with metallurgy and testing capabilities have a far greater ability to engineer solutions that meet the needs of precision manufacturers developing new applications. Innovative applications require advanced thinking and materials to drive technologies and marketplaces forward.

Ulbrich’s technical expertise extends when material shortages or other supply chain issues arise. Deep manufacturing expertise will allow your re-roller to deliver alloys that meet your specifications. Broader knowledge and technical capabilities ensure those alloys are what's best for your needs.

The Power of Their Relationships to Extend Your Supply Base

Partners with relationships worldwide and across the entire supply chain are better positioned for challenging market conditions.

When you choose a supplier, you place a bet that they will supply what they've promised and when they've promised it. In less challenging times, some amount of risk may be acceptable. However, in today's market, where it can be tough to procure needed materials, it may be worth paying more to ensure the order is delivered. It may cost your business significantly less in the long run than if you suddenly face untenable material shortages and scramble to find solutions.

The best metal supply chain partners have established and cultivated purchasing relationships with a wide array of melt sources and can work more nimbly than a lower volume buyer, such as an individual manufacturer, to secure material for their customers.

Company Culture Eats Short-Sighted Strategy for Breakfast

When the going gets tough, it highlights the importance of moving beyond transactional behavior toward strategic partnerships. Look for stable businesses with solid financials that care about building relationships that will last for years or decades.

Contact us if you're looking for an experienced supply chain partner that you can trust to supply the alloys you need in the toughest of times.