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Sales shift to small compounding extruders

By: Bill Bregar

December 4, 2012

AKRON, OHIO (Dec.4, 11:05 a.m. ET) — Diversity returned to sales of compounding extruders in 2012, as sales of large-volume lines for general compounding — prevalent in 2011 — gave way to a more traditional blend of smaller extruders for specialty applications, machinery executives said.

If 2012 sales fall a bit, that’s not a bad thing, they said, since the normally cyclical industry enjoyed a strong two-year bounce back in 2010 and 2011 from pent-up demand coming out of the recession.

“In 2012, it’s still been a good year, but narrowing down in the major project work,” said John Effmann, director of sales and marketing at Entek Manufacturing Inc. in Lebanon, Ore.

“It’s a mix of all kinds of materials. We’re doing stuff in sheet. We’re doing stuff in compounding, in bioresins and color masterbatch,” Effmann said.

Automotive has remained strong, keeping compounders busy. Some are still adding capacity. And the nascent home-building pickup should help com- pounding machinery in 2013, officials said.

Paul Caprio agreed that compounding extruder sales have cooled. Caprio is president of KraussMaffei Corp. in Florence, Ky., which sells Berstorff lines.

“I definitely feel that it is not as hot as it was one year ago,” Caprio said. “There was a big pickup of capacity a year ago, adding equipment to do that. That seems a little bit more cautious right now.” Berstorff is having a good year for rubber compounding lines, used to make tires and commercial roofing, he added.

Charlie Martin, general manager of American Leistritz Extruder Corp. in Somerville, N.J., agreed that overall business will be down in 2012. “This year is lower than last year,” he said. “The thing that helps us is, we’re diversified into numerous niche markets.

“The key is to develop new processes in the lab. A number of very large orders have been in development phase for five years or more.”

Martin said American Leistritz performs 80-100 trials on its six extruders and hosts a lot of workshops.

This year, Farrel Pomini opened a U.S. laboratory and customer demonstration facility in Oxford, Conn., near its headquarters in Ansonia, Conn. Steve Peterson, vice president and business unit director, said the lab is doing lots of work testing biomaterials and new formulations. This year has been a mixed bag for compounding extruders, Peterson said.

“It started out initially strong and then it lulled for some months. Then it has come back,” he said. “We’re in good shape in order intake, but what I’ve seen over the last three or four months is that, in Europe things definitely have slowed.”

The automotive rebound has helped Japan Steel Works America Inc. enjoy a good year, said Scott Paulot, sales and marketing manager of JSW compounding extruders, in Novi, Mich.

JSW has also seen growth in large lines sold to resin makers that do devolatizing and dewatering. The company upgraded its twin-screw laboratory to perform direct devolatization. “That market is steady and has a lot of potential for growth,” Paulot said.

One company that continues to sell large compounding lines is Century Extrusion. “For us this year, there’s a continuation of that, and our backlog still has pretty-big-horsepower machines in it that we’re starting 2013 with,” President Bob Urtel said.

Century Extrusion, of Traverse City, Mich., invested in production equipment, hired people and expanded the assembly floor to keep up with demand.

“During the recession, everybody was putting in a lab line. Now there’s still production machines being sold and being installed, for us anyway,” Urtel said.

B&P Process Equipment and Systems LLC focused on new compounding technology, rolling out the TriVolution Series Tri-Kneader, a reciprocating kneader, said Michael Lazorchak, product manager for mixing systems at B&P in Saginaw, Mich. The material mixing interaction happens between the discontinuous flights of the screw and stationary pins located along the interior barrel wall.

“They’ve been begging for new technology and really, ‘new’ has focused on a new way of degassing or a new screw element. For us, it’s a whole new way of compounding,” Lazorchak said.

“We have been competing against twin-screws in a market that’s been saturated with OEMs,” Lazorchak said.

The year-end industrywide numbers will show a double-digit decline in the twin-screw compounding extruder business, said Mike Millsaps, chief operating officer of SteerAmerica Inc. He said the firm’s parts business is “going gangbusters,” but customers are delaying major investments as 2012 closes out.

“All our customers are doing well. You ask them how’s business, and they say, ‘Good, but we’re afraid to place a large order,’ ” he said.

Like other extruder makers, Millsaps said SteerAmerica sold large compounding lines in 2011.

In 2008, India-based Steer Engineering Pvt. Ltd. set up SteerAmerica in Uniontown, Ohio. “It’s been five years. We’ve been here preaching the gospel of Steer. We’re starting to have good things happen,” Millsaps said.

Coperion GmbH of Stuttgart, Germany, made the biggest business news in 2012, buying Pell-Tec Pelletizing Technology GmbH and Weicom srl, a maker of weighing and packaging equipment. Coperion itself will be getting a new owner, Hillenbrand Inc. of Batesville, Ill.