CHICAGO — Quick shipment to U.S. customers, including automotive molders, spurred Battenfeld GmbH's decision to begin U.S. production in Bellefonte, Pa., company officials said.
Another reason: low U.S. labor costs.
After two years of publicly pondering the issue, Battenfeld made it official at a June 17 news conference at NPE*1997 in Chicago. The German machinery maker — which already builds extruders and film-making equipment in the United States — is now making its large-tonnage HM injection molding machines here. The first U.S.-made HM, with 1,100 tons of clamping force, was molding automotive grilles in Battenfeld's NPE booth.
In other news, Battenfeld officials said they have decided not to manufacture tie-barless injection presses or two-platen presses. Those technologies are among the hottest trends today in the injection molding machine industry. Battenfeld also is in no hurry to expand its limited line of all-electric presses, company officials said.
The firm hopes to build about 10 HM machines a year in Pennsylvania. But that number may be conservative, based on the machine's early success in Europe. Battenfeld introduced the HM at K'95, the huge German trade show held in November 1995. The firm has sold 120 HMs since then, twice as many as planned, according to Helmut Eschwey, member of the managing board of SMS AG, which owns Battenfeld.
HM presses range in clamping force from 300-4,400 tons.
``This is a size range that requires, in this market, quick deliveries, and we are currently not able to meet deliveries with machines shipped from Germany,'' said Wolfgang Meyer, president of Battenfeld America Inc.
Meyer said Battenfeld, which only recently began marketing the HM machines outside Europe, has sold just three HMs so far in North America.
The Bellefonte plant, in central Pennsylvania, currently employs 100 people making steel forming equipment. The plant is owned by SMS Engineering, which is part of SMS AG.
At the news conference, Eschwey acknowledged that labor costs also influenced the decision.
``Definitely, the U.S. has lower labor costs and has achieved a high level of productivity. This was very attractive to us,'' he said.
Injection presses account for half of Battenfeld's total sales of $500 million. The other half is about evenly split between pipe and profile extrusion and film and sheet extrusion. Eschwey said pipe and profile sales have increased by 49 percent this year. Injection molding sales grew 24 percent. Film and sheet equipment gained by 21 percent.
Battenfeld also introduced a new T model of small injection press, in clamping forces of 55 and 110 tons. T machines require 30 percent less floor space than the company's CDC series of machines.