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Return to work sees demand for protective screens soar

Firms supplying methacrylate plastic and making partitions overwhelmed as businesses prepare for lifting of health restrictions

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03 May 2020 10:52 AM

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ACN|Barcelona

The demand for methacrylate plastic screens and partitions to protect workers and customers when businesses open to the public again with the easing of the health restrictions has exceeded all expectations in the sector. 

Firms specializing in the production and distribution of such screens and partitions have been swamped by an avalanche of orders and are having increasingly more problems getting hold of the material to make them. 

A single supplier can sell 100 tonnes of methacrylate a week around Catalonia, while companies with orders for screens are having to double shifts and take on extra staff as they sell out what they have in stock and are forced to open waiting lists.

Polimer Tecnic is a methacrylate wholesaler based in the Riudellots de la Selva industrial estate in the Girona region, and in recent weeks the firm has seen orders for the plastic multiply by five. So much so that they now sell 100 tonnes a week.

In fact, they no longer put the pallets in the warehouse when they arrive. "We can't keep up; as soon as they reach us, they leave again," says the general director of Polimer Tecnic, which has had to resort to third parties to try to satisfy the demand.

"The truth is that demand is becoming ever more tense," admits Quim Aliu, and right now, the new orders that come into Polimer Tecnic already have July as the delivery date. And in the case of factories, it is even longer.

Soaring demand

At Plastic Express, a company in Barcelona specializing in methacrylate and polycarbonate, the volume of work has not stopped increasing. "Demand has grown a lot; we've had to double shifts and hire people on a temporary basis," says manager, Joaquim Figueras. 

As in other companies, the new orders come from those sectors that need to strengthen protection measures in order to return to work safely. "Some 90% of the products people ask for are intended for the protection of workers," says the manager.

Pharmacies, laboratories, and hospitals have been the main buyers, but at Plastic Express they are expecting a new wave of customers in the coming days. "Bars, restaurants, hairdressers, and beauticians will also start coming soon," says Figueras. 

The manager of the Sant Cugat company Aluminis SC, Raquel Llasera, says that in recent weeks the demand for methacrylate screens has tripled. "Many sectors began to take an interest in this material because it was initially cheaper than glass," she says. 

However, she also warns that it is increasingly difficult to find it in the Spanish market and says that the price "has skyrocketed." Llasera has begun contacting producers in the south of France to see if they can supply them.

"We believe that as the easing of the restrictions moves forward, demand will soar even more," Llasera points out, and she adds that it is "essential" that there are clear regulations on whether screens are mandatory, the material they should be made of, and their sizes.

"Exaggerated" number of orders

Rosa Maria Permanyer, spokeswoman for the Disnou company in Castellar del Vallès says that since mid-April they have received an "exaggerated" number of orders and indicates that the demand for methacrylate has increased by 400%. 

While acknowledging that it would be best to have clear rules regulating the use of screens, she says shopkeepers and restaurateurs are not concerned. “They’re desperate to reopen and all they want is to put the screens up and be able to work,” she says.

At Barcelona's Plastic Express, Joaquim Figueras says that at present there is enough material to meet demand, but he admits that the future is "very uncertain" and he points out that the material in Catalonia is beginning to become scarce.

This is why Metacrilat.com in Olot has about 50 customer orders on a waiting list, with the firm hoping to supply them as it receives more material. Manager Lluís Clavaguera explains that every day they receive about 15 calls enquiring or placing orders.

Metacrilat.com has plans to start making partitions with other materials, such as compact polychrome, which is harder but would still serve as protection, while Polimer Tecnic is looking at materials, such as polycarbonate or cellular polypropylene. 

The Proycsa company in Valls already uses alternative materials. The firm, which manufactures industrial protections, has already exhausted all the polycarbonate it had in stock due to the demand for partitions. 

Next door is the Jeatec workshop, specializing in industrial maintenance. Seeing that their work had gone down, the three partners - Eudald Coll, Jordi Campanera, and Antoni Campanera - decided to take the opportunity and also enter the screen business. 

Proycsa supplies the parts to them and they finish and distribute them, especially to small local shops or offices. "The critical point now is the raw material. There is no way to find it and we have already lost some sales because of it," says Coll.

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  • A Plastic Express worker in Barcelona (by Albert Cadanet)

  • A Plastic Express worker in Barcelona (by Albert Cadanet)

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