BY STEVEN MARTINEZ
If you didn’t know anything about the supply chain before 2020, you most likely do now. The pandemic allowed everyone to see firsthand what happens when the finely tailored global supply network is thrown into chaos.
Fleets of container ships were parked just offshore at major U.S. ports, awaiting a chance to offload their sometimes-perishable freight. Entire categories of goods disappeared from shelves while prices and shipping times for consumer goods shot upward. A shortage in a crucial area had knock-on effects for other large industries. We all remember the semiconductor shortage that led to supply disruption of everything from gaming systems to automobiles.
Dental and orthodontic supply companies saw their own supply chain disruptions. Yes, there were the PPE shortages that left doctors scrambling to keep stock; but for companies like Boyd Industries, which makes chairs and other equipment for dental and orthodontic practices, it was foam that was in short supply. .
“There was a situation in 2021, where we couldn’t get foam of all things. Dental chairs require foam and they’re uncomfortable if you’re just sitting on the frame,” says Adrian LaTrace, CEO of Boyd Industries. “The company that we were getting the foam materials from didn’t survive because of the downturn in their business as well as the inability to get foam.”
The shortage was only exacerbated by the fact that the automotive industry is one the major buyers of the same foam for its car interiors, meaning that the comparatively small Boyd was jostling with gigantic multinational corporations for the same anemic supply.
“We had to get really creative, really fast to figure out how we were going to get foam because we had backordered product that we had to get out,” says LaTrace.
The solution, it turned out, was to buy large blocks of foam, circumventing competition for the pre-cut variety and employ people to cut it for their chairs in-house.
“It was a very scary period of time because the automotive industry was competing against us to get foam,” says LaTrace. “But it was one of those lesser-known situations in the country at the time that really required us to be agile as a company.”
The bottlenecks were infuriating for many companies and consumers and seemingly random to an outsider. Another random disruption in 2021 caused lead times for acquiring one specific color of upholstery for Boyd to balloon to 26 weeks in length.