More cars and trucks getting assembled equals more plastic material being used — a big reason why the compounding extruder business remained solid in 2013, machinery leaders said.
Bob Urtel, president of Century Extrusion, said automotive lightweighting is pushing more plastic into cars. New under-the-hood plastics applications need recipes of engineering resins, elastomerics and additives, and that puts an emphasis on compounding.
"That driver remains a pretty important one, for us anyway," Urtel said. "We've got some projects that have recently been delivered and are in our backlog, targeted to companies that are supporting the automotive sector." Century Extrusion is in Traverse City, Mich.
But executives also said demand for compounding machines has been pretty broad-based. And that diversity helps Somerville, N.J.-based American Leistritz Extruder Corp., said General Manager Charlie Martin.
"This was a good year. We're always a mix of direct extrusion, pharmaceutical and masterbatch," Martin said. "Last year was a record year, and 2013's not going to be a record, but it's in the same ballpark."
B&P Process Equipment and Systems LLC showed its TriVolution reciprocating kneader at K 2013. The kneader provides a high throughput at slower screw speeds, to impart good dispersion with a lower heat history than twin-screw extruders. That comes in handy when running sensitive materials like bioresins, said Michael Lazorchak, global product manager at Saginaw, Mich.-based B&P.
Customers are running trials on B&P's 60-millimeter TriVolution, and on a twin-screw compounding extruder. Company officials help customers pick the best technology.
"We've had a spike in inquiries as well as contracts" for both types of machines, Lazorchak said. "We're either seeing big, high-output machines or we're seeing small lab machines," he said.
Berstorff is picking up orders from automotive compounders and in roofing membranes, said Paul Caprio, president of KraussMaffei Corp. in Florence, Ky. "We've had some very big orders this year, which is a reflection that construction of commercial and industrial buildings is expanding," he said.
John Effmann said Entek Manufacturing Inc. also experienced a diverse mix of extruder demand in 2013. Business was divided among 40 percent general compounding and colors, about 20 percent sheet and 20-30 percent bio-based resins.
"This year it's a pretty good spread. I love it when it's not dominated by any one thing," said Effmann, director of sales and marketing at Entek in Lebanon, Ore.
He is optimistic the good times will continue in 2014. Quoting levels are higher than a year ago, for major projects in material handling, pelletizing, sheet and other markets.
Coperion Corp. in Ramsey, N.J., added a ZSK Mc18-series compounding extruder to its test laboratory. The German parent company, Coperion GmbH, touted the lab extruder at K 2013, held Oct. 16-24 in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Increased U.S. compounding led Coperion to expand its screw plant in Wytheville, Va. Ulrich Bartel, vice president of compounding machines, said customers are demanding turnkey systems. And Coperion's private-equity owner, Hillenbrand Inc., also owns K-Tron International Inc., a maker of auxiliary equipment for material handling, and Rotex Global LLC, which manufactures screening and material-separation equipment.
Steer-America Inc. in Uniontown, Ohio, has become a recognized U.S. player in compounding extruders of 70mm and smaller. But the company has won orders for some larger lines for general compounding, said Mike Millsaps, chief operating officer.
"It's been a great year," he said. "It should be Steer-America's best since we started here in 2008."
Indian parent company Steer Engineering Pvt. Ltd. is expanding manufacturing capacity by 50 percent to meet demand, so it will be able to build as many as 150 extruders a year for plastics, up from 100 now.
Based on a steady flow of U.S. customers at Steer's K 2013 booth in Germany, Millsaps thinks next year will be strong. "Business for most of our customers seems very good. You've got the exception here and there, but for the most part, people are going ahead with new projects," he said.
NFM/Welding Engineers Inc. was busy through April, then business flattened out, President Paul Roberson said. NFM also focuses on helping customers with R&D, and some of those projects are about to begin commercial production, he said.
"Those [development projects] typically are longer-term efforts, so we're sort of in the midst of that process," Roberson said in a phone interview from the company in Massillon, Ohio.
Longer-term, Roberson thinks the U.S. plastics manufacturing business will gain new plants, because of stable resin prices from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, of gas and oil. And that means more compounding and resin production domestically.
"There's going to be an infusion of low-cost materials that are going to be here in the U.S. You're going to see expansions. If they make millions and millions of pounds of this stuff, you're going to see local industries that have an advantage," Roberson said.