The rubber industry has reflected the general trend in manufacturing over the past 20 years-consolidate, consolidate and consolidate again.
The result has been fewer but larger companies. But is bigger better?
The manufacturing and supply sectors of the rubber business are replete with examples that, rather than creating innovative, profitable firms, consolidation has given birth to struggling giants.
Take the measure of the supply sector as a case in point. Chemical company buyouts and joint ventures have reduced the number of players immensely in the past few decades.
Many familiar names now are part of larger concerns that aren't profitable enough, a reason several major rubber supplier businesses are or have been for sale.
The latest is PolyOne. Years ago the M.A. Hanna Co., which got its start in mining, pushed hard to become a player in custom mixing. It bought up its competitors and positioned itself as the dominant force in its field.
Prominence hasn't equated to profits. PolyOne-like other supply giants, such as Bayer and Flexsys-has tried various approaches, some fairly distinctive, but hasn't had sufficient returns.
Some of PolyOne's smaller, regional mixing house competitors are thriving, in comparison. This despite the long economic downturn that has throttled the rubber business.
In general, the model of creating behemoths in the static rubber business hasn't added value, just moved assets around. Maybe it's time for some of the big companies to split up what isn't working, and let smaller, entrepreneurial spirits take over.