The role of distributors of composite materials has evolved with the materials themselves. Today, wholesale raw-material distributors provide an extremely valuable long term service to both the customer and the raw composite material manufacturer.
Below is a brief description of the value of distribution in the composites industry. It should be noted, not all composites distribution is equal, but the following is based upon my experience with Composites One, North America's largest distributor of composite materials. Prior to working in distribution, I was a customer in a manufacturing R&D company, so I have had the opportunity to see the value from both sides.
Value To The Customer
A composite material supplier has the ability to negotiate pricing based on extremely large quantities. The distributor in turn is able to pass on this savings and sell the composite material to the customers at a lower cost.
This concept of bulk distribution has been around since man first started to trade. Wholesale merchants have been buying in bulk, and selling in smaller quantities for literally thousands of years. Be it grain, salt, textiles, spices, or composites. There is a reason this business model has withstood the test of time. That is, it works and provides value to the customer. (Also provides value to the supplier, more on this later)
Additional savings come in the form of freight savings too. Efficiently moving materials in bulk from the point of origin to the end users can reap large freight savings. With fuel prices rising logistics of raw composite materials is extremely important.
Inventory Management and Warehousing
Raw material inventory management is no easy task. This takes seasoned employees and expensive technology to monitor and track supply and demand. In a global marketplace where carbon fiber might be originally manufactured in Japan, and then is combined in a prepreg with an epoxy resin from South Korea, keeping an appropriate inventory level becomes extremely difficult.
Here, the distributor provides value by handling the logistics, inventory, and warehousing. The distributor here can plan and bring in the appropriate inventory level, and release that inventory to the customer as it is required. The man hours in purchasing and logistics a customer saves is numerous.
Cash Flow Conservation
With using a distributor, and just-in-time deliveries of raw materials, a customer does not need to have their cash flow tied up in raw material inventory on their floor. The distributor assumes the risk and carries the inventory for the customer.
Additionally, often terms of credit are granted to customers to allow them time to pay. This is extremely important to any manufacturer in any industry, let alone composite materials.
Certain composite material distributors provide a great deal of technical support, and at no cost to the customer. Be it advise on gel coat application, fiber selection, or manufacturing techniques. Distributors such as Composites One have full time experts while decades of experience in a particular field such as resin, core materials, mold building, etc.
When a problem arises, the distributor can call upon their network of experts and suppliers to get to the root of the problem quickly, and provide new composite material and suggestions to fix the issue.
Research and Development
Since the distributor is in contact with numerous suppliers of a wide variety of materials, they are usually on the forefront new composite materials and manufacturing techniques. The distributor is an important part in keeping the composite manufacturer on the leading edge of manufacturing, and ultimately building products that are lighter, stronger, and more cost effective.
Health, Safety and Environment
Often over looked is the team at a distributor which stay up to date on rules and regulations regarding composite materials, emissions, OSHA requirements, and more. They can provide free audits and help the manufacturer comply with all the local, state, and federal rules.
Getting fined by OSHA the EPA or the fire department can be expensive, so taking advantage of this service of a composites distributor is important.
Value to the Composite Material Suppliers
Many do not realize this, but a composite material distributor provides a great deal of value to the manufacturer of the raw composite materials too. Below are a few examples:
Sales and Marketing
Distributors can be the sales and marketing team for material suppliers. For a supplier to have a dedicated sales staff would be extremely cost prohibited. By utilizing distribution, suppliers can get their products in front of many more customers and be much more responsive to the needs of the end user.
Lower Risk / Less Accounting Burden
The raw material manufacturer can spend much time of their credit and accounting department handling the numerous accounts that might purchase their goods. Keeping track of invoices and orders of the many customers can be extremely time consuming. By using distribution, the supplier then has only one primary customer to bill. Payment to the supplier is reliable and on time, always. The distributor then takes on the risk of getting paid by the end user.
In conclusion, distribution in the composites industry plays an important roll in the evolution and success of composite material manufacturers. The distributor provides value to both the end user and the raw composite material manufacturer. If you manufacture products out of composites or manufacture materials used in composites, I suggest you get in touch with your local composite material distributor.