Lisa Reisman and Stuart Burns will be blogging -- and video-blogging, if they can get their camera to work -- this week from the Rare Earth metals summit in DC. The formal title of the event is Managing Supply Chain Risks for Critical and Strategic Metals. Check out their coverage on the Spend Matters affiliate site, Metal Miner. While I'm no expert on metals -- and certainly not rare earth metals -- I've managed to learn a bit about the subject by picking up on Lisa's and Stuart's discussions on the issues. As I have come to understand it, there are a handful of key themes we should all think about when it comes to rare earth metals.
First, we should be aware that rare earth metals are increasingly working their way into not just green-tech and high-tech applications, but also such areas as the medical device / imaging business and even the A&D market. In other words, with each passing year, more and more companies are releasing products that contain rare earth metals. For background on what some of these metals are and their industrial uses check out this post on Seeking Alpha. For example, Scandium is used for "Aerospace, Baseball Bats, Nuclear Applications, Lighting and Semiconductors," according to the site.
Second, it's important to remember that certain rare earth metals are in short-supply, a point that not only limits their application, but also creates competition among nations to capture the finite resources available to them. China and the East are home to many existing deposits of various rare earth metals. Rare earth metals also exist in North America, but the politics of mining are much more complicated here, making it difficult to bring new supply streams online. Along similar lines, many who follow rare earth metals believe that the coming years will see the US and China locked in a political struggle -- potentially with higher and higher stakes -- to secure supply for defense applications and private sector ones as well.
If your supply risk management strategy is not taking into account rare earth metal availability and pricing, perhaps it should. This is a topic that few procurement and supply chain practitioners are versed in, yet will become increasingly important in the future.