DES PLAINES, Ill.—While many of the pandemic-related industry challenges that began in 2020 have morphed into other difficulties this year, the family-owned Rahco Rubber Inc. is moving into 2021 with vim and vigor, investing in equipment and eyeing opportunities in new markets.
The 75-person firm with 60,000 square feet in Chicagoland manufactures custom molded rubber parts, components and seals for an array of industries, with its "bread and butter" spaces found in food equipment, plumbing, fuel systems, irrigation and water treatment.
"We're excited to start off 2021 with continued re-investments that strengthen our already very solid manufacturing operations by adding a new Pan Stone 350-ton injection press to our production floor," said Jack Anton, Rahco Rubber co-owner and vice president of sales. "This new press offers great versatility for molding highly engineered rubber parts and satisfying our customer's needs."
But 2021 is not without its own hurdles to overcome.
A year ago, industry concerns centered first and foremost on the health of employees and the production of PPE and other life-saving materials by companies deemed essential during the pandemic. Rahco was one of those businesses.
"Our supply chain remained strong during the pandemic," Anton said. "We did experience some fluctuations in customer orders by industry, though. Fortunately, Rahco has a very diverse customer base, a kind of 'mutual fund' approach such that as one market segment slowed, another would increase.
"We saw ripples but no tsunamis. We were deemed a necessary manufacturer and never shut down during the COVID-19 period."
One year later, the focus for the precision custom molder, which serves customers throughout North America, is on pricing volatility for raw materials, sea-faring freight delays, poor crop production for natural rubber and exploding demand in China as the gears of the world's biggest economy start to churn once again.
"No doubt that challenges have arisen with raw materials," said Anton. "Natural rubber has been in short supply, and currently the EPDM market is very volatile."
This volatility is related to China's 'post-COVID' manufacturing restart, Anton said, as well as automotive, medical and building industry pressures on available feedstocks. There is limited offshore vessel space and a shortage of shipping containers, and global conglomerates that produce raw materials are reallocating their manufacturing assets.
In Southeast Asia, NR has been impacted negatively by weather, a lack of harvesters and the continued consumption of materials needed for PPE in the medical industry.