The hottest growth in injection molding machine sales in 1994 came in two of the three largest clamping force categories, reflecting strength in big-parts molding for markets such as automotive, appliance and housewares. The biggest machines, with clamping forces of 1,200 tons or more, continue to be a key factor in the boom that began in 1992. That year, according to data from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, 45 of the huge machines were sold.
Now the number is up around 100. Most form large parts for automotive, appliance and housewares. That raises the question, with consumer spending slowing, of whether the industry can maintain a pace of 100 presses a year.
Sid Rains, vice president of sales at Van Dorn Demag Corp., and Bruce Kozak, vice president of Cincinnati Milacron Inc., both said big-machine strength goes beyond general economic conditions, particularly in automotive.
``It's being driven by competitive issues and cost-reduction issues rather than just pure market growth,'' Kozak said.
Rains said molders need to invest in new technology, such as coinjection machines to process regrind. Automakers' consolidation of their supplier bases also has driven sales of up-to-date machines.
``We have seen a lot of our Tier 1 customers in particular doing some incredible expansion over the last couple of years,'' Rains said.
HPM Corp., with annual sales of about $100 million, also reports solid automotive business.
``We are still seeing pretty good activity in the automotive sector,'' said William Flickinger, chairman and chief executive officer. ``We still see the large machine market doing well, and it continues to look favorable for '96.''
Toshiba Machine Co. ``is still getting a lot of automotive-related business,'' said Tim Glassburn, vice president of the plastics machinery division.
``It may not be as strong as it was, but it's still pretty strong,'' Glassburn said.
He thinks big-tonnage machines look good in 1996.
``We're seeing a lot of activity in that size category, more than we have in the past year,'' Glassburn said.
But officials at several other companies said automotive is one of the few markets showing some weakness in recent months.
``They're all strong, other than automotive,'' said Kurt Fenske, vice president of Engel Machinery Inc.
Wolfgang Meyer, president of Battenfeld America Inc. of West Warwick, R.I., said automotive ``was a very good market in the past year, but I think as consumer spending has been reduced somewhat, these markets are probably very sensitive and ex-pansions will be at a smaller amount this coming year.''
With electronic and medical markets still strong, Meyer said: ``We're supplying more small and medium-sized machines now than larger machines.''
Industrywide, Meyer said units shipped in 1995 should end up increasing about 7-8 percent over 1994.