Issue: Jun 2007


FIVE WAYS TO SELECT AN ADHESIVE CONVERTER THAT STICKS



by Michael Frank

Not all adhesive converters are created equal. If they were, it would be a simple task to pick one. You could simply choose your preferred vendor based on location. Or price. Or gut instinct.
The fact is, each converter of Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) and non-PSA components offers distinct competitive advantages. Some have more expertise in tape slitting while others are more proficient in complex die-cutting. Some specialize in certain industries, while others may be capable of providing product to dozens of end-user markets. Yet others are adept at providing specific products but don’t truly provide “solutions.”
So if you’re charged with finding an adhesive converter partner for your business, how do you choose? While each company is different, there are certain baseline criteria that should always be examined. A converter that is able to favorably meet these parameters may not be the optimal final choice for you, but it certainly would have to be included on your “short list.”
Following are five criteria that can serve as a useful litmus test for judging a converter’s capabilities. An interesting aside: “price” is not one of the five. This is not to suggest that price should not be considered, rather, it is not included as a cautionary measure, lest the reader be seduced by a low-price option. The fact is, low price is a fleeting advantage; if price were truly a valid differentiator, all a converter would need to do is make its prices one cent lower than its competitors, and that company would become the industry leader. It’s not about price – it’s about the value that a converter can provide. High value and good service are worth paying extra for; low value and poor service are not.

1. Think Global
An adhesive converter that can service its customers on a global basis is a critical consideration. Why? Because a global company can shepherd its customers from product concept all the way through design, production, and shipping. Many times, a company designs a product in one part of the world and manufactures it in another. The adhesive converter must possess the knowledge and the expertise to acquire the materials from, say, the United States and get them to Asia or anywhere else – quickly and economically. The best converters are “thinking globally to provide solutions locally.”
As a greater percentage of companies go offshore for manufacturing, or as they begin to incorporate more multi-site locations, there is a corresponding need for adhesive converters that can provide a local sales and manufacturing presence combined with a global reach. By being able to integrate all of a company’s locations, the successful converter can consolidate its customers’ supply chain and help them gain speed to market.
It should also be noted that many customer companies are, indeed, global companies themselves. Further, the converter’s raw-materials suppliers are often also global concerns. Consequently, it’s advantageous for the adhesives converter to be a global company as well, in order to fit comfortably into the supply chain and act as an effective “link” between the global entities at each end of the supply chain.
The fact is, there are very few adhesives converters with the capabilities to adopt a global approach. A converter in Detroit, for instance, may very well not have the worldwide reach to service the shifting customer base to Asia where an increasing volume of automotive components are being manufactured. Global converters can be found, but the search for them may require some effort. Our own global model at M&C Specialties is one that works quite effectively: we employ approximately 1000 people worldwide and serve a variety of end-user markets from our factories in North America, the European Union (EU), and Asia.

2. Supporting the Whole Process
One of the general business trends we are seeing is “margin compression” all through the supply chain. And as profit margins get sliced to the bone, it’s vital that every supplier a company uses is capable of more than simply providing a quality product or service. It is equally critical that the supplier help customers squeeze every cent of cost efficiency out of their entire supply chain; adhesive converters should be no exception.
To accomplish this objective, converters must be capable of understanding and working with all aspects of their customers’ operations – what M&C Specialties refers to in its own operation as “Total Process Analysis (TPA).” They need to be able to study the product they’re being asked to make and analyze the flow of that product throughout the customers’ total design, manufacturing and delivery procedure, not merely their own role in the process. In doing so, the product might turn out to be more expensive to actually manufacture. However, the total operating cost may be driven down significantly as a result of the converter’s proactive efforts.
Ultimately, the best converters are attempting to optimize their customers’ processes. It’s not just a matter of saying, “Here’s a product from 3M that we can convert.” It’s essential to look downstream at the entire operation and drive out costs in nine or 10 different areas that other companies wouldn’t even think about.
A corollary to supporting the whole process is being a single-source supplier. The convenience of being able to use one company for all forms of adhesive converting is obvious. But more than that, even if you find various companies that can each fulfill one of your converting requirements, there is the issue of certification. Some companies may have the proper certifications necessary, other may not. Finding one company that has all the necessary certifications is far easier.

3. Quality Standards
Providing the right materials for customers’ applications is only half the game; providing them at the quality standards and certification levels they require is the other. In healthcare, for example, there are various GMP standards and cleanroom standards all the way from design and prototyping to purchasing to packaging to boxing. The point is, each industry has various standards and guidelines that must be observed. The adhesive converter should be familiar with these standards and be prepared to meet them at every step of the manufacturing and delivery process.
The superior adhesive converter must also be sensitive to the internal quality needs of the company for whom the product is being created. Many companies have adopted various quality programs, such as Six Sigma, TQM, etc. Understanding the unique aspects of whatever quality program the customer is currently embracing – and being able to work within that framework – should be a non-negotiable qualification.
Being a single-source supplier plays a critical role in this area as well. Finding multiple converters that can all meet the quality standards your company has established can be a time-consuming, if not impossible, task. Plus, by using just one converter, you are assured that the quality procedures are being followed in a consistent fashion - the same way every time.

4. Quality Suppliers
Just as the adhesive converter is trying to be an integral part of a strong supplier network for its customers, the converter needs a similarly strong supplier network of its own. Converters with strong supplier networks certainly have access to quality raw materials, as well as their suppliers’ own technologically advanced processes. But they also have access to their suppliers’ technical teams, their business savvy, even their brainstorming capabilities.
The vast majority of adhesive converters can find suppliers capable of providing them with materials of at least reasonable quality. The converters that deserve serious consideration, however, are the ones whose suppliers are willing to spend extra time helping the converters solve their customers’ problems – even problems that don’t involve the supplier in any way.
When looking for an adhesives converter for your specific application, ask the converter what suppliers they use. Then do a little research into those companies. Find out their technological capabilities. See how financially stable they are. Check out their client list. Check out M&C Specialties’ supplier list and you’ll see some of the world's finest tape manufacturers – household names like 3M, Rogers Poron, tesa tape, MACtac, Avery Dennison, and Covalence Adhesives, just to name a few. It’s not a stretch to say that you can tell a lot about converters by the company they keep.

5. The Spirit of Innovation
While this is perhaps the most obvious criterion, it is by no means the least important. In some ways, adhesive converters are no different than other companies. Some employ the latest technology, the latest equipment, state-of-the-art materials, and the most up-to-date processes. Whether a customer needs tape slitting, die-cutting, printing or anything in between, some converters have clearly made the commitment – financial and otherwise - to being on the cutting edge of their industry.
Of course, there are those at the other end of the spectrum who have not. Many converters, however, fall somewhere in the middle. They may be outstanding from a process and materials perspective but they may be using equipment that is 30 years old. What does that mean to the customer? It means that your product may be taking longer to produce than necessary. Or it may not be up to the quality standards you expect. Or it may be costing a little more to manufacture than it should.
The fact is, you can be the best adhesive converter in the world from a logistical perspective, but without good equipment, you’re a second-tier player at best. Ask how old the converter’s equipment is. Find out how often they upgrade their equipment. Maybe they’ve even introduced some new technology to the industry. The answers will help narrow down your choices measurably.
Also, don’t overlook the “people” angle. Make sure the company you choose has talented people who are experts in their field – not just in top management but at all levels. What’s more, try to determine as best you can the average length of employment. People who have been employed at one company for a long time tend to be more proficient at their jobs, which will ultimately be reflected in the work they perform for your company.

In Summary
By no means are these guidelines intended to be the last word in selecting an adhesives converter. No doubt, there are more. Plus, your company may well have its own guidelines that might not be particularly meaningful to other companies but which are critical to your decision. But these five are an excellent jumping-off point, intended to weed out the pretenders from the contenders. After all, when it comes to adhesive converters, it’s safe to say that you’ll want one that will stick around for years to come.


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