Blow molding machinery makers nationwide report that 1994 was a great year, and most expect as good or better in 1995. Although most of the machinery makers contacted would not give exact figures on how many orders they had in 1994, or how many machines have been ordered for 1995, most report strong backlogs and lengthy lead times for new machinery delivery, caused by increased orders.
In general, improving economic conditions in the United States have enabled plastics processors to place orders for machinery they may have delayed in the past, according to some machinery makers, while the general health of the plastics industry and the need to keep pace with technological advances stimulated others.
``This past year was the best in the last 14 years,'' said Martin Stark, president of Bekum America Inc. of Williamston, Mich. ``We added staff, and have been work-ing overtime most of the year to keep pace with orders.''
Stark said Bekum has seen single-digit-percentage price increases in labor and material costs, as well as longer delivery times for the raw materials the company uses to build machines.
``We had especially good growth in extrusion blow molding machines for packaging,'' he said. ``The three-layer machinery for use with post-consumer recycled materials has been very strong as well.''
He said the company delivered 15 machine systems in 1994, and had a ``nice backlog of orders'' for the coming year. He said Bekum is anticipating 12 to 20 week lead times on deliveries of its machines, depending on the complexity of the systems.
``1995 should be as strong or stronger than 1994,'' he said. ``We anticipate increased demand for our continuous extrusion blow molding machinery, especially the larger, multicavity machines, for 16-ounce and 24-ounce containers.''
For Cincinnati Milacron Inc., 1994 saw orders for larger machines increase dramatically.
``We doubled our blow molding business in what is a new product line for us in 1994,'' said Richard Morgan, regional sales manager for the blow molding business, based in Batavia, Ohio. ``Our T series of larger machines with up to 60-pound heads for industrial blow molding applications has gone very well.''
Morgan said Milacron expects 1995 to be even better for blow molding, projecting 20 percent growth over 1994 levels. Lead times for delivery are running at 8-10 weeks for smaller machines, and 12-14 weeks for larger ones, he said.
``The market is splitting, with some machinery makers going on with the general models for one-layer and simpler applications, and others going for the high-end, multilayer machines. We would like to cover the spectrum in both sides,'' Morgan said.
Sales reached record and near-record levels for manufacturers based offshore, despite fluctuating monetary conditions, which saw the U.S. dollar weaken against the German mark and Japanese yen.
``This was a record year for us,'' said Terry Ryan, vice president for sales and marketing of Battenfeld Blow Molding Machinery of Boonton, N.J., a division of Battenfeld Machinery GmbH of Berlin.
``We had the highest sales totals in accumulator head machines, but the greatest growth in continuous extrusion blow molders.''
In particular, Battenfeld's BFB-1D series of blow molders for 1-to 10-ounce bottles did extremely well in 1994, Ryan said, and the company has strong backlogs of orders for the coming year. Battenfeld's lead time is about 10-14 weeks for accumulator head machines, and 18-20 weeks for continuous extrusion models, depending on specific configurations.
In 1995, Ryan expects the machinery market to hold at current levels, with strong demand in the automotive and packaging sectors.
``The resin price increases and the idea that interest rates will go up are the things that could cause the market to remain at its current level,'' Ryan said.
Accordingly, Ryan said Battenfeld will hold the line in the near future on machinery price increases. Others cited the continued changeovers of packaging makers from glass and metal containers to plastic.
Tom Talbot, vice president for sales and marketing for Nissei ASB Co., an Atlanta-based division of Nissei ASB Machine Co. Ltd. of Nagano, Japan, said 1994 has been a near-record year for his company, too.
``We have benefited from the conversion by many end users from glass and other materials to plastic,'' Talbot said. ``Demand has been strong for our multicavity machines.''
He said the company has seen ``strong interest'' in its line of all-electric blow molding machines since they were introduced officially in June at NPE '94. He said lead time needed for delivery of most Nissei machines has averaged 18-20 weeks.
``Our company has been able to cope with the problems stemming from the relatively strong position of the yen vs. the dollar by concentrating on the reduction in cost of our machines. We are considering setting up a tool shop operation here in the U.S. in the future,'' he said.
Talbot said the true strength of the market in 1995 will depend on how many outstanding orders actually are delivered. Some may be delayed or withdrawn because of uncertainty about how long the strong economy may last.
The 1994 surge in equipment orders has not been limited to whole or new machine systems, either, according to Mel O'Leary, president of Meredith-Springfield & Associates, a Springfield, Mass., blow molding equipment research, design and parts manufacturer and retrofitter. He saidmany of his orders for the coming year have been for retrofitted equipment to handle a surge in recycling interest among plastics processors.
``We have seen an enormous surge in the last six months for multilayer heads,'' O'Leary said. ``We have orders for 20 retrofit projects, as opposed to about a dozen in the last three years.''
He said the increased interest in refitting machinery has come as a result of recycling mandates in several states that are pending or took effect at the beginning of 1995. O'Leary said his company is requiring 14-18 weeks of lead time on delivery, compared with 10-12 weeks six months ago.
``I think people got the false impression that when legislation came about in California, Oregon, Florida and other places that they were going to be able to use monolayer, post-consumer blends,'' he said. ``Now they are finding that that is not true, and that the biggest companies have sewed up the supplies of post-consumer materials and that there is an inadequate supply, so they are interested in multilayer molding with a [post-consumer] core layer.''
O'Leary said he thinks the surge in retrofit orders is temporary, but that supply problems will continue.