State Of The Vinyl Nation

Queues at the petrol pumps, products out of stock, sky-rocketing gas prices, supply chain problems everywhere, COVID-19, but Key Production are still here to manufacture your product!

Key Production use 9 different vinyl factories, reserving capacity at many in order to try to get product made as quickly as possible. We try to schedule to give everyone the best turnaround times that we can within the resources that we have. We, along with many others, have had to turn work away. We have a pretty good grip on the state of play at all factories, even the smaller ones and the newer ones and if we can get any extra capacity of value anywhere, we will.

The industry is struggling with the over-demand and under-supply of vinyl which has meant lead-times sky-rocketing to as much as 6-8 months worldwide, we have even heard tales of 12 months. The demand is showing no signs of abating and whilst there are factories planning on new machines as well as new factories due to open, my professional opinion is that this situation will continue at least well into next year.

Supplying new machines to the industry has also been problematic. Whilst 3 new machine suppliers have sprung up during recent years, they also cannot keep up with demand and they have had problems sourcing microchips (which has also been an issue in car manufacturing).

One factory that we use had based all of its capacity calculations on 2 new machines arriving, which didn’t, they also didn’t put in enough galvanics for the amount of presses that they have (the process that makes the metalwork that is used to press the records) and so a huge backlog has ensued with some work first being put back one month and now another month on all releases. We are working to help them to resolve these issues but it will take a few months before they catch-up.

Smaller factories have found it difficult to ramp up and get staff and have found that the third-party supply of metalwork can be erratic and slow. The UK factory that supplies metalwork has a 3-month backlog and has stopped taking new clients, another EU factory has been supplying sub-standard metalwork. As a note, small plants that do not have their own galvanics charge more for the metalwork (you are charged per plate) and then tend to have exacerbated backlog problems if one is faulty as they can’t get it replaced as quickly.

Along with staff shortages due to COVID-19, factories are having supply chain issues with coloured granulate. I have spoken with at least 4 factories who order the granulate, get told it’s arriving on a certain day and it just doesn’t turn up. My advice currently would be to stick to black if you can, or if you can’t, to think about being flexible on the colour you request. Key will of course try to accommodate all requests but guaranteeing turnaround times or colour availability is extremely difficult.

It's worth noting that there has been a knock-on effect on all orders due to the coloured vinyl shortage, as once the colour does come back in, it gets shoehorned back into an already over-full schedule which has been why some orders have been pushed back more than once.

The shortage of PVC and polycarbonate carries on and whilst it appears to be better than it was, we are continually getting price-rises with no guarantee of price stability and there are still issues at some CD suppliers.

The latest supply chain problem is cardboard (I did hear it being called the Amazon effect!) which is affecting all factories with one in particular having had to increase turnarounds overnight by 7 weeks with no notice to us. They (and we) are trying hard to reduce this by sourcing elsewhere, although we have just heard that prices for raw materials are going through the roof (sometimes doubling) as paper and card products ramp-up for the festive season.

Brexit has brought its own problems with VAT charges and lack of transport. Currently, transport isn’t as much of issue as it was at the start of the year but we can’t guarantee that we won’t be next in line for driver shortages.

Unfortunately, the reality we now find ourselves in is that no amount of planning and checking can protect us from unforeseen, often last minute delays. Any vinyl shipping dates given should be taken as an indication only. We will make every effort to meet these dates and will pass on all relevant information as soon as we can but delays remain a possibility, sometimes with very little notice and sometimes delaying product by weeks rather than days. We understand that this is very frustrating for everyone and makes it very difficult for a label / artist to organise a release but the truth is we cannot guarantee accurate shipping dates in advance. From our side, it’s been really difficult for us, a company that prides itself in its service levels, to have to tell people bad news and not give the service everyone has come to expect. We love being able to (more often than not) pull rabbits out of hats but sadly there are no rabbits and no hats these days.   

I don’t want this all to sound like doom and gloom, but it's important that people know the truth about what is happening and that we are working around the clock to try to make things work. We have employed a dedicated supply chain manager and have a scheduling assistant about to start in order to help out our supply chain.

We are very proud of what we do at Key Production and are all huge fans of bespoke product, vinyl, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and cassettes . We are thankful for the fact that our part of the industry is flourishing and that we will be part of it for a very long time to come. Things will ease up eventually and we will work hand in hand with the factories to give you as accurate information as is possible and change our ways of working to make this happen.