Thermoforming machinery makers enjoyed a good year in 1994, and most contacted by Plastics News expect 1995 to be as good or better. Like machinery companies in other sectors of the industry, most would not share specific sales data about units ordered or delivered, but the overall picture is one of relatively strong growth, increasing lead times and acceptance of technological innovations.
In 1994, sales at Zed Industries Inc., a Dayton, Ohio-based thermoforming machinery maker, grew 50-75 percent, according to Henk Hoogendoorn, a sales engineer.
``We have about seven orders out there for 1995, and that is very good,'' he said. ``Our lead times have grown over the last year to about four to six months.''
He said he feels the market in 1995 will be very strong again, as thermoformers seek to update or replace their machinery after several years. He said his company's reduction of mechanical elements in some of its skin-packaging machines in particular has led to strong interest.
Brian Crawford, senior sales engineer for Lyle Industries Inc., a Beaverton, Mich., thermoforming machinery maker, said 1994 saw steady double-digit growth over 1993.
``Our sales grew 10 percent over 1993,'' he said. ``We expect about 20 percent growth in '95 over 1994.''
Crawford noted that his company has order backlogs that have pushed lead times from order to delivery from a norm of 12-14 weeks to 16-18 weeks.
Crawford said thermoforming customers are demanding improved servo drives to cut cycle times, improve control and repeatability, and decrease labor.
``We also see strong growth in the acceptance and use of [amorphous] PET in thermoforming,'' he said.
1994 ``was an excellent year for us,'' said Paul Alongi, president of Mack Machinery Inc. of Itasca, Ill. ``We saw about 25 percent growth in sales over 1993.''
He added that he expects the sales growth rate to triple in 1995, and for the market to remain fairly strong.
``I think given the three- to five-year period preceding this, when you had people holdingback, that there are a lot of people out there with old machinery,'' he said. ``Their machinery can only last so long.''
He said the company is getting orders for new machinery, not for retrofitting, because older machinery just is not as efficient as new.
``You can build a 1956 Buick with all new parts and when you get done, you have a really nice '56 Buick,'' he said.
Alongi sees the market for twin-sheet and high-pressure thermoforming as very strong, and an increasing demand for almost anything made of polyethylene. He said the lean years have led to a number of new demands for PE for a new range of applications.
He said lead times needed for machine production vary greatly depending on what machine a customer orders, from about 6 weeks for a premium rush order, to about 24 weeks for a standard machine.
``The dunnage and automotive markets are remaining strong,'' he said. ``I advise people to know their temperature. If you know about your machinery you will be all right.''
``We saw a 100 percent increase in orders in 1994 over the last two years,'' said Robert Kostur, president of Comet Industries Inc. of Sanford, Fla. ``Our experience was that many of our customers were holding back during relatively hard economic times, and that now they can spend the money on new machinery.''
Kostur said that Comet Industries is requiring six to 16 weeks' lead time to produce machines, based on how complex or large they are, and that the company has a large backlog of orders for 1995.
``A number of our customers are becoming more heavily involved in using recycled materials,'' he said. ``We have been involved heavily in the develop-ment of post-consumer recycled materials handling and I would expect that to continue strong into next year.''
``I think that more customers are beginning to accept twin-sheet thermoforming as the process of the future,'' said Glenn Beall, president of Glenn Beall Plastics Ltd., a Libertyville, Ill., consultant who works with thermoforming and other segments of the industry.
``It puts thermoformers in direct competition with some blow molders, but offers some advantages - not the least of which is 25 percent savings in tool costs over blow molding equipment costs,'' Beall said.
Beall said business was very good in 1994 for thermoformers and equipment makers, and might be expected to continue that way for at least part of 1995. The popularity of gas ovens should continue as an alternative to traditional electric ovens, and twin-sheet and vacuum forming techniques will continue to improve, he said.
``I think you will be seeing more use of recycled material in thermoforming, particularly in packaging,'' he said. ``And I think you will see a push for more thermoforming of polypropylene. There are several technologies out there aimed at making what has been a difficult material for thermoformers more easily processed.''
He said PP should be especially popular in laminations, and multilayer sheet constructions, where a thin layer of pigmented resin, ABS for example, can be used to give color to a clear PP lamination.