One word sums up 1995 for at least one maker of thermoforming machines-phenomenal. Paul Alongi, president of Maac Machinery Corp. of Itasca, Ill., applied that word to his firm's year, one in which he said Maac sold 35 percent more machinery than it did in 1994.
Although he would not disclose how many actual machines the sales increase represented, he said it was one of the highest growth rates the company has ever experienced.
``I think it's been an overall growth in the sheet-fed thermoforming industry that has stimulated the growth,'' Alongi said. ``Most people seem to have had orders enough to support getting new machinery.''
Nor have Maac's orders come from one particular market. Alongi said about 20 percent of the increased sales have been in overseas markets, and all have been sales of what he calls the ``high-tech rotary'' machines.
``We have had large projects - Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and Germany. And everyone is most interested in computerization. The control systems and use of computerized operations have accelerated drastically,'' he said.
Alongi does not expect 1996 to be as fruitful as 1995. He said he does expect sales to continue at the same rate, but not to grow.
``I think to expect two years in a row like this would be too much, but it should be good.''
A study by Freedonia Group, a Cleveland research consultancy, predicts that sales of thermoforming machinery will grow by about 5.2 percent from current levels by the year 2000, compared with the growth rate of 2 percent between 1989 and 1994.
Less effusive, but still highly positive, was the assessment of Jim Glenn, vice president for sales and marketing with Brown Machine Thermoforming of Beaverton, Mich., a division of John Brown Plastic Machinery Co., of South Attleboro, Mass.
``I would say 1995 was very good for Brown Thermo-forming,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``I think the growth in the markets comes from thermoformers seeing new ways to thermoform different products, and new opportunities.''
He said pallet makers, and some medical device makers, have developed new thermoforming applications, which led to interest in new machinery. He agreed with Alongi that the new wave of rotary thermoforming machines, especially with heightened computer assists, will continue to be the hottest item in the machine market. Glenn would not disclose sales figures, but said the firm is promising delivery in 12-14 weeks, or 18-20 weeks for larger machines, depending on the applications.
``I think consensus in the industry, if such a thing exists, is that 1996 will be flatter or softer for sales,'' he said. ``But we also expect world markets to stay strong and have pretty substantial growth in less-developed countries.''
He said Brown had projects in China, Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil and Argentina during 1995, and developed very good leads at the K'95 show in Dusseldorf, Germany, during October.
``Interest was very strong, especially from Europe and the Middle East,'' Glenn said.
Robert Marshall, president of ZMD International Inc. of Paramount, Calif., agreed that 1995 was a very good year, although the growth of his sales slowed compared with the explosive rate he experienced in 1994.
``One thing that we noticed was that we sold about as many machines in 1995 as in the prior year, but that the value per machine increased dramatically,'' he said. ``That was due to the increased use of high-tech control and trimming systems, and to the interest many customers have in expanding applications.''
Many thermoformers found that with more sophisticated machines they were able to do parts and products formerly only possible in injection molding, and that many who thought they needed pressure forming equipment could do their products on ZMD's normal vacuum systems.
ZMD has backlogs of orders through June, and Marshall said he can promise delivery in 10-14 weeks on most systems, with some possible in less time.
Marshall said he anticipated that 1996 would be as good as 1995, and that increased sales in the Pacific Rim and other emerging markets would continue.