Aluminum shortage disrupts Montana license plate production


HELENA, Mont. – Montana became the latest state to stop manufacturing license plates due to an interruption in the supply of aluminum to the United States – another example of supply chain problems caused by the pandemic.

Montana Correctional Enterprises, which makes the plates at the state prison, ran out of aluminum this week, said Carolynn Bright, spokesperson for the Montana Department of Corrections. Another delivery of aluminum is not expected until December, officials said.

“We knew this could be a possibility because this has been a problem at other license plate factories across the country,” said Gayle Butler, administrator of Montana Correctional Enterprises, a division of the Department of Corrections.

In May, North Carolina suspended its license plate replacement program for more than six years due to an aluminum shortage while Arizona had an aluminum supply chain issue that is resolved in June.

Montana is looking for other places to get aluminum, but others who have the metal are unwilling to sell it due to the same supply shortage, Butler said in a statement.

There are issues across all supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in part due to increased demand with the reopening of economies that has exceeded the ability of suppliers to keep up, said Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics. Other industries have struggled to find enough computer chips and wood during the pandemic.

A recent wave of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia has resulted in the closure of factories and ports, Zandi said. In addition, energy costs are higher and aluminum manufacturing is energy intensive, resulting in higher prices.

Aluminum license plate shortages are more likely to be related to supply chain disruptions than an actual hardware shortage, said Christopher Davis, regional director of pricing communications for S&P Global Platts.

There is aluminum available in the spot market, but it could cost more than a year ago, Davis said, and it could take longer to get to where it’s needed due to the same logistics and workforce issues affecting supply chains around the world.

Approximately 750,000 license plates are made each year at Montana State Prison in the small community of Deer Lodge. The plate’s design and numbers are printed on reflective foils which are applied to pieces of aluminum.

County motor vehicle departments and authorized license plate distribution agents in Missoula and Billings still have license plates available, said Laurie Bakri, administrator of the state’s motor vehicle division.

State officials are trying to determine how many aluminum plates are still in stock and whether counties with additional plates can share them with other counties whose stocks are dwindling, she said.

“We assume that our large counties are going to run out (of plates) faster,” Bakri said.

For now, Montana Correctional Enterprises prints the plate numbers on the reflective sheets and places them in plastic sleeves, similar to the temporary license plates that are issued before people get their permanent plates, said people. responsible.

If the shortage persists, Montana plans to apply the reflective sheets to PVC sheets to create license plates, Bakri said. People who receive the temporary plates will get permanent plates when regular production resumes, Bakri said.

“Hopefully we don’t have to see it on the cars, but that’s our back-up plan if the aluminum doesn’t arrive in December,” she said.

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