CHICAGO — The plastics business is good and likely to get better in the next 12 months, according to a poll of more than 1,000 attendees at NPE 1997. A random sampling of processors, material producers and machinery suppliers interviewed for the DuPont Plastics Industry Survey this week at McCormick Place revealed a profitable, steadily growing industry with good prospects.
Trexel Inc. (Booth E9600), a company that licenses microcellular foam technology, had a difficult time finding potential customers for its process three years ago. Now, it's turning companies away, said Matt Palaver, vice president of the Woburn, Mass., company.
``The economy is buoyant,'' he said.
At Asea Brown Boveri Inc., business has been growing and shows no sign of slackening, said William Stanley, a Windsor, Ontario-based account manager for the robotics and paint systems company. His customers in the automobile industry continue to tool up for new business.
``It's been taking off and there seem to be no signs of stopping,'' Stanley said. ``I'm surprised at how strong it's been.''
The results of the DuPont NPE survey are consistent with the U.S. economy and a plastics industry that has shown steady if somewhat-moderate growth, said Thorne King, global marketing research manager for DuPont Co. in Wilmington, Del.
``It's been the pattern that's held since 1992,'' he said. ``I see the data as being very consistent with a bullish outlook.''
In the next 12 months, 89 percent of this week's respondents to the DuPont survey expect growth in their businesses. That's well ahead of the optimistic bunch surveyed by DuPont in 1994, when 80 percent were expecting growth.
Of the 1,017 attendees surveyed by DuPont at NPE 1997 this week, about half identified themselves as plastics processors. The remaining respondents were suppliers of resin, machinery and equipment, and end users of plastic products.
The vast majority of processors, some 81 percent, said they are doing more business this year than in 1996. By similar lopsided margins, resin suppliers and machinery makers also said they are doing better this year.
The good times rolling through the plastics industry have processors looking to upgrade operations. About 85 percent of those surveyed by DuPont said they are planning to purchase processing machinery for expansions and upgrades in the next 12 months.
Business is ``excellent'' at extruder manufacturer Davis-Standard Corp. (Booths N5016, N5028), said Edward McGrady, vice president of manufacturing.
``We had a mildly soft year last year after a decade of double-digit growth,'' he said. ``But the company's backlog is increasing and business is profitable.''
Much of the company's growth in past years came from buying other companies, but Davis-Standard is not planning any large acquisitions, he said. Instead, the Pawcatuck, Conn.-based company is focused on internal improvements and ISO 9000 quality certification.
Business is good even in places such as Germany, where the economy ``isn't that great,'' he added.
About one-fourth of the respondents to this week's NPE 1997 survey said they are based outside of the United States. Haim Alcalay, president of Apa Advanced Technology in Tel Aviv, Israel, is concerned that things have been good for a little too long. Apa is a consulting firm for joint ventures in all segments of the industry.
``One always worries about things going on so long,'' Alcalay said. ``There are stories in the Bible about seven good years and seven bad years.''
Jomar Corp. (Booth S347) of Pleasantville, N.J., a maker of blow molding machinery, does about 70 percent of its business outside the United States. Company President William Petrino has high hopes for a more stable international market, with promising new markets opening up in China and Russia. The domestic market also is good.
``The U.S. business is coming back very strong,'' Petrino said.
Auxiliary equipment producer Conair Group (Booths S930, S1130, S1330) of Franklin, Pa., is getting a boost in business from companies that operate internationally, said Conrad M. Bessemer, executive vice president. When a U.S.-based company expands in a foreign market, it often equips new plants with the same equipment it uses at home.
``The economy has been strong for us,'' Bessemer said.
Others at NPE, although doing well, were cautious.
``It's been a good past year,9 said Stephen Golimowski, plant manager for plumbing supplies producer CR/PL LP of Somerset, Ky.
He said his firm has been riding a boom in construction.
``It can't last forever, but I hope it lasts another year,'' he said.
Business has been good but ``not busting at the seams'' at Spartech Corp. (Booth N6301), a resin and compound supplier, sheet extruder and injection molder based in Clayton, Mo. D.J. Yoder, vice president for engineering and technology, said business is slower than it has been compared with the past two summers.
He is predicting an economic slowdown in the next three to five years.
Samuel H. Smith III, president of Wentworth Capital Corp. (S372) of Portsmouth, N.H., which specializes in lending money to plastics processors, said he is ``pretty optimistic'' about the economy in general. But certain things need to happen to ensure that plastics companies will thrive.
``In the resin markets there have been huge price fluctuations,'' Smith said. ``If the resin market stabilizes, it will be good for users of a lot of resins. Then we'll see much more consistency in profits.''