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Substitution away from copper a necessity: Kohler

Keywords: Tags  MSCI, Copper, brass, Kohler, substitution

KOHLER, Wis. — Higher metal prices have forced plumbing products manufacturer Kohler Co. to substitute out copper in order to stay successful, company executive Jim Westdorp said.

Kohler started substituting cheaper materials for copper when prices began rising about a decade ago, he told delegates at the Metals Service Center Institute’s (MSCI) Copper and Brass Products Division Conference June 25.

"When copper tripled, our products were designed to use different material," said Westdorp, Kohler’s group president for kitchen and bath products.

July copper prices on Comex, the most actively traded contract, settled at $3.0725 per pound June 25, down from highs above $4 per pound in 2011 but well above prices below $1 per pound in 2003.

Despite the recent dip, analysts like Raymond Goldie from Salman Peters Inc. expect prices to continue to rise over the next decade as the volume of copper available from mines decreases year after year (, June 7).

The Kohler, Wis.-based plumbing parts manufacturer now typically uses brass in its products and design items to include fewer parts, Westdorp said.

"Copper is not something that is easy to substitute away from, but now very few homes get copper supply pipes," Westdorp said. "I’m substituting away from high-cost materials to provide value to the customer."

He also cited new regulations on lead restrictions and no-trace radiation rules as factors impacting product choice, as well as market pressure to be more environmentally friendly in manufacturing.

"Greening" has proven to be a lucrative way for Kohler to save money and satiate the desire for green products, he added.

"There are easy, cost-effective, financially justified ways to run manufacturing in better ways and be environmentally responsible," Westdorp added.

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