Nitrile glove manufacturers are working feverishly to keep up with the massive increase in global demand. Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes, and how to position your practice for the coming months.
While the supply chain—and prices—for many types of PPE have stabilized, the glove market remains in turmoil. There’s no simple fix, as we’ll explain in this article. However, by understanding what’s driving the price hikes and unpredictable availability, you can reduce your office’s costs and make a solid plan for riding out the craziness until things get back to normal. (We’ll talk more about when ‘normal’ may arrive a little later).
What’s behind the sharp increase in demand?
Obviously, for hospitals treating the surge of COVID-19 cases nationwide, glove usage has increased substantially. If that were the only change, the glove industry could probably keep up. However, essential workers find themselves either choosing to wear gloves for their own protection, or because they’re mandated by their workplaces to do so. Ordinary people who never donned a glove prior to the pandemic and now gloving up for trips to the grocery store, gas station and ATM. Countries worldwide are competing for their share of a finite supply as they fight to lock up reliable PPE supplies for their populations. Finally, hoarding is still a problem, with people still buying more then they need.
The problem is more complicated than demand simply outstripping supply. The story gets even more complex when we get to challenges at the manufacturing level, but the collective upshot is that demand is now at two to three times normal levels. Benco Dental estimates that the product shortfall worldwide was about 37 percent as of mid-December 2020. All of that probably has you asking…
Why can’t manufacturers simply build more factories?
They can, and some are. The problem is, typical glove factories are stories high, many football fields long, and can take years to construct. They also cost in the neighborhood of $50 million to $100 million dollars.
All that aside, most glove manufacturers are hesitant to expand their operations right now. That’s because, when the pandemic slows, demand for their product will collapse, and they’ll be left with massive excess capability. Instead, manufacturers are focused more on increasing production within their existing facilities—but they face challenges beyond their control.
What’s holding up production at the factories?
It’s hard building glove factories, but it’s even harder building butadiene factories. Butadiene is an essential elastomer used in the manufacturing of nitrile gloves. To produce it, you need a facility that requires tons of safety and environmental checks. You also need a reactor to make butadiene. When’s the last time you heard the word ‘reactor’ referenced outside of a nuclear plant? Yet that’s the reality, so even for glove manufacturers who have the capacity to increase production, the raw materials remain in short supply.
In addition, the majority of glove production worldwide takes place in Malaysia, where a number of factories were recently forced to shut down due to rising coronavirus outbreaks among their workforces. This will cause the industry to fall even further behind.
When will prices start to fall?
Like a lot of things these days, that depends on how quickly America can roll out its vaccines, as well as the percentage of the population that actually gets vaccinated. Prices and demand are expected to peak in March, and then subside as vaccinations and the arrival of warmer weather help to lower infection rates.
Even then, it will still take a little more time before you feel relief on your practice’s balance sheet. While distributors like Benco Dental continually negotiate the best possible pricing with manufacturers, the actual product doesn’t show up until months later. Typically, a glove order placed in March would ship in April and arrive in Benco warehouses by May. So, the lower-priced product doesn’t immediately become available for purchase.
What can you do to reduce costs?
- Don’t panic buy. Benco Dental customers will have an adequate supply of gloves through the coming months. If you order only what you need, you can take advantage of the best pricing at any given time rather than buying a large inventory at the current high prices.
- Start using latex again. When practices began using nitrile gloves, it was originally to accommodate those with latex sensitivity. However, as nitrile gloves got better and better, it was easiest to simply switch over to nitrile 100 percent of the time. That may have made sense then, but not during the current pandemic. Therefore, consider reserving nitrile gloves only for those who need them. Ask everyone else to go back to latex temporarily. Benco Dental estimates that could save the average practice about 30 percent versus sticking with all nitrile gloves.
- Stop wasting exam gloves for cleaning! It’s a fast-paced world, and the temptation is to simply reach for a fresh pair of nitrile gloves when cleaning the operatory. However, that’s a real waste of money that further strains the supply of nitrile. Use vinyl gloves instead. They’re easy to get, cost less, and protect just as well as nitrile for everyday cleaning tasks.
- Take a lesson from your gloves: be flexible. If you’re willing to compromise a little on your choice of color, thickness, fit and feel, you’ll find getting your hands on the gloves you need at the best prices a lot easier. By the end of 2021, Benco Dental expects dentists will once again be able to satisfy individual preferences completely. In the meantime, making do with what’s available is another way to save money and reduce stress.
Benco Dental is committed to delivering the highest quality, authentic products to give you peace of mind that your PPE is doing its job. The next several months will be challenging, but when it comes to gloves, we’ve got you covered with supply you can count on at the best possible prices.