The Structure of the UK Rubber Sheeting Market
With so many options, the UK rubber sheeting market place like many other niche markets can be tricky to navigate. How companies choose to market themselves, mainly on the internet, can be confusing, especially with the use of industry jargon.
This can leave the customer uncertain about what a potential supplier actually does versus what they claim to do. This article will explain the options available and ensure you are approaching the right type of company for your needs.
First of all it should be stated that there is a role for every company within the rubber sheeting market. Having said that, a customer will only get the right product if they enter the market at the correct point. There is no point talking to a pig farmer when you want a bacon sandwich! Let’s take a look at each market segment and discuss why they are the right type of company for you.
At the beginning, there’s the original rubber sheeting manufacturers. These companies have large machinery on their own premises such as calenders or extruders that can manufacture rubber sheeting. Some of these rubber sheeting manufacturers will have huge production lines and produce ten thousand metres in a day. Others may be much smaller and only produce twenty metre rolls per day. Some manufacturers could offer cured and uncured sheeting or textile reinforced sheeting. Each can offer different range of thicknesses, constructions and widths. They may also hold a set number of rolls in stock or make to order subject to minimum order quantity and lead-time of four to twelve weeks.
A good company should have a technical department and be able to advise on different types of rubber sheeting. They should also be able to formulate something specific to the customer’s final use. These companies are good partners if there are big enough volumes but not if you only require one hundred washers the size of a ten pence coin!
In the UK there are approximately ten companies who can rightly claim to be original rubber sheeting manufacturers. Each either specialise in a set market or offer custom manufacture. The UK is self-sufficient in this regard so a customer should not need to source products from outside of the UK. Dealing directly with these companies ensures a good origin with a tight control on product specification. This is something demanded by many industries such as aviation and defence.
Original sheeting manufacturers should not be confused with rubber compounders. They mix the raw ingredients for the sheeting manufacturers to work with. Whilst some compounders can produce uncured sheeting, generally they supply crude rubber ‘slab’ or ‘strip’ for converting into precision sheeting.
Next in the supply chain is the rubber sheeting distributors. Their role it is to keep large stocks of a wide variety of sheeting for immediate delivery. These companies are not original manufacturers and generally choose to import sheeting from the Far East by the container load. Whilst each distributor has an area of specialism, they tend to focus on general purpose and mainly commercial (cheaper) grades of sheeting.
They will supply one roll upwards and can be useful if you require many different options of sheeting in small quantities. Some will offer ‘specials’ which are made to a customer’s specification but are not actually manufactured by the distributor. They will most probably source from their Far Eastern supplier, or cheapest source. This means longer lead-times and a loss of control regarding product specification for the customer.
Whilst some distributors are experienced, they are not technologists. They cannot offer the same technical support as a good original sheeting manufacturer. In the UK there are approximately four main distributors with each having a very similar product offering. This can lead to price cutting to gain market share which is often at the expense of product quality. Nonetheless, distributors fulfill a need in certain markets but aren’t the best choice for bespoke high specification sheeting with assured origin and technical back-up.
Factors or Converters
The last segment are the ‘factors’ or ‘converters’. Their role is to manufacture articles from rubber sheeting such as washers or gaskets and supply sheeting in small quantities. They often describe themselves as rubber sheeting manufacturers but aren’t the original manufacturer of the sheeting that they convert. These types of companies whether large or small will have a range of machinery to convert rubber sheeting. This includes click presses, CNC cutting tables, stripping machines, or small autoclaves etc.
Many will also be able fabricate three dimensional parts using appropriate adhesives or cements. The rubber sheeting they work with will often be purchased from the distributors by the roll or pallet load. They will then add a margin when reselling without any conversion. These companies are great for finished items such as cut gaskets and washers but not for buying large quantities of sheeting. Within the UK there are hundreds of factors/ converters often servicing their local area.
Hopefully in considering the three market segments above; original sheeting manufacturers, distributors and factors/ converters you have a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each and where to direct your enquiry.
At White Cross Rubber we are the UK’s specialist original rubber sheeting manufacturer. We have a broad production capability and an experienced technical team. Over the past thirty years we have serviced a vast array of customers. These range from safety and protective equipment to petrochemical customers, amongst others from within the UK and further afield. We are always happy to discuss new opportunities – most of which are within our capabilities, but if you want a bacon sandwich we think you’re better going to a local café!!