AKRON—The earth, once a place of vast distances, is shrinking, and along with it the rubber industry. How the news of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan rippled throughout the globe clearly shows that fact.
All eyes were on Japan when the disaster struck the world's third-largest economy, home to some of the largest players in the rubber industry. The epicenter of the quake was off the coast, but the destruction was felt throughout the nation.
Industry essentially shut down. Companies like Toyo, Bridgestone, Yokohama, Tokai and Sumitomo and their suppliers reported no loss of life, but thorough inspections had to be made before the factories came back online.
The Japanese rubber firms have strong ties to the U.S. Certainly, many phone calls and e-mails were made as people in the North American rubber industry tried to find out the status of their associates and friends in Japan.
One of those is connected to this publication—Roger Schreffler, a freelance reporter who has written many stories for us over the years. He splits his time between Japan and the U.S., and was in Tokyo when the quake hit; specifically, on the 20th floor of an office building, that swayed “like a roller coaster” for three or four minutes, he said.
When the big one was over, Schreffler walked several miles—all the trains had stopped running—to an important interview with an auto company president, sticking to the middle of the street as aftershocks caused many of the older buildings to swing back and forth.
Some of those buildings, as well as bridges and other structures, remain standing today because of rubber. Japan is perhaps the most sophisticated country in the world for preparing for earthquakes, since they occur so often and it is an affluent country. Earthquake isolation pads used in buildings, bridges and railways are one of the answers to survival in an earthquake zone.
And finally, the quake cooled off—if only temporarily—the huge price hike for natural rubber. The fear that Japan's economy will tank and along with it NR demand caused a big price drop, at least for the short term. That could impact any company in the U.S. that uses NR.
In the world today, like politics, all events are local.