Yet another rubber product has slipped into that awful category called "commodity."
Production of natural rubber surgical gloves in the U.S. will be down to just a couple of manufacturers when Ansell Healthcare Products Inc. closes its Massillon, Ohio, plant later this year and moves production to Malaysia and India, where pay scales are miniscule compared to U.S. rates.
While it's at it, Ansell is relocating some knitted product manufacturingÃ¹goods that have elastomer liningsÃ¹to Mexico. Again, cheaper pay scales.
About 100 jobs will be lost at Massillon, part of 900 Ansell is cutting in a larger U.S. consolidation. Welcome to globalization.
This story was especially meaningful to me. Way back in 1982, I wrote a feature about a neat little niche market, surgical rubber gloves. I interviewed a number of people, including some very helpful folks at the Perry glove business in Massillon, then owned by Affiliated Hospital Products.
It was a fun story to do, and interesting, about relatively little guys making a go of it in a rubber industry dominated by big, international tire makers.
At the time, the Perry division was doing pretty well and operated four plants in the U.S. and Canada. Now there is just one factory, and soon, none.
Back in the early 1980s, when fear of AIDS brought speculators into the glove business and a wild boom period of new capacity in Southeast Asia, I was a little surprised when U.S. production also had an upswing. The reasons glove production is migrating from the U.S. to low-cost sites already existed back then. But quality control fears gave an opening to American-based operations, and there was a "mini-boom" in the U.S. then, too.
Things are different now, and changing market conditions have made U.S. production less attractive. Ansell isn't doing anything all but a couple of its competitors haven't done already.
Surgical gloves used to be special, or as that 1982 article said, "a niche business." Now they're pretty much just another commodity, made more cheaply overseas, like footwear, various auto parts and—blasphemy!—tires.
Not the first rubber product to go that way. Won't be the last, either.
Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News.