Plastics News runs six processor rankings each year. Guess which one is the most onerous? Yep. You're holding it right now: our ranking of pipe, profile and tubing extruders.
With this column, I want to provide background on how the data comes together. Certainly, none of the rankings can be called easy. Every one requires literally hundreds of telephone calls to bounce numbers around, digging through back issues, trips to the library and now, thanks to modern journalism technology, punching in endless Internet addresses.
But the ranking in this issue -we affectionately call it the ``PPT'' chart - is the ultimate test.
A couple of major Canadian players (you know who you are) continues to be uncooperative. Some tubing extruders also are highly secretive.
The most difficult group of companies to deal with, however, continues to be the pipe extruders, especially PVC pipe makers. The reason why is no big secret. Commodity PVC pipe simply has become a nasty business. Some years, most everybody loses money. Company officials always seem to be under stress. It isn't a pretty sight.
But one result, we hope, is that the lack of independent, publicly available data makes our efforts to produce solid estimates for this contentious bunch just that much more valuable.
This year's annual exercise in scratching and clawing for data prompted me to take a trip down memory lane, to the ``early days.'' I flipped to the first PPT ranking in Plastics News, in 1991. (Back then it was folded in with the film and sheet extruders' ranking). Longtime readers may remember a column in that issue headlined, ``Extruders ranking a monstrous task,'' with a picture of the responsible party behind a pile of ranking forms, holding his head, looking like he wanted to scream.
I know how he felt. So does Freyda Sussman, Plastics News' research coordinator. Freyda oversees and manages the data for all six rankings.
Looking back at that initial effort, we listed only eight pipe companies. That's pretty lame. I developed, with much industry input, a formula to generate PVC and polyethylene pipe sales, based on pounds of resin, the resin price and economic conditions.
Every year since, we've added more pipe companies, so that the ranking in this issue is the most complete sales-based ranking of plastic pipe extruders available today.
Last year we added a breakout chart of window extruders - something that, to the best of our knowledge, never has been compiled by a trade publication.
But adding companies is difficult. Check out the chart. Of the 213 extruders listed, 37 companies, or 17 percent, have a big, superscript E next to their sales figure. That stands for Plastics News and industry estimates, meaning the sales numbers did not come from the firm. Seven of the top 10 are estimates.
Any ranking, done year after year, will throw you a few curveballs. This year, we had to scramble as several companies that had cooperated in the past suddenly decided to stop. One is in the top 10. Another man said his company had gone from private to public ownership, and the publicly owned parent now wanted to keep the information private!
How about the opposite? Say you get a company that, for years now, refused to help you, but you got accurate numbers and estimated them anyway, but now they return a completed form - listing sales more than 21/2 times higher!
That happened this time. Up against deadline, we whipped into action, calling their competitors. Everyone agreed the number they gave was impossibly high. After a few calls to the company, we discovered the misunderstanding and they provided the accurate number - pretty close to our original estimate, after all.
Yes, it can get pretty zany here at good ol' Plastics News. ...
Bregar is an Akron, Ohio-based staff reporter for Plastics News. His beats include the building and construction industry.