After years of grumbling by plastics equipment makers who think the U.S. government's plastics machinery import numbers are seriously messed up, one company finally showed real leadership.
Cincinnati Milacron Inc. deserves credit. Because Milacron put its money where its mouth is — by funding a major study last year into U.S. Customs Service data — improvements are on the way.
For years, meetings of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Machinery Division included complaint sessions about import data. One major critic has been Harold Faig, global vice president of Milacron's Plastics Technology Group.
Faig and other machinery executives charge that the Customs Service habitually overstated the strength of imported injection molding machines, and other types of equipment.
It's a big issue for Ohio-based Milacron, which racked up $736 million in 1997 plastics equipment sales. Milacron is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and financial analysts study government import data. Faig said Milacron could be hurt unfairly by inaccurate numbers that show imports as stronger than they actually are.
Complaints about inaccurate data even prompted the SPI Machinery Division to stop releasing SPI data publicly until improvements are made to the government numbers.
In early 1997, Milacron commissioned Robert Branand, a Washington lawyer well-versed in global plastics issues, to conduct a major study. Branand closely examined two years and one month's worth of Customs Service import records. What he found wasn't pretty: Medical and dental supplies from Germany counted as 412 injection molding machines, aluminum ingots from Mexico classified as 23 presses, 20 boxes of personal items from Portugal counted as 20 machines, each valued at the ridiculously low price of $5,000! The list goes on and on.
Branand is working with the Customs Service to improve the process. Starting Jan. 1, imported injection presses coming into the country have to list a new, longer Harmonized Tariff System number that requires the importer to break down injection presses into four clamping-force categories. Now Milacron, and the SPI Machinery Division, need to keep on top of the issue, to make sure the reforms really work.
Milacron is by far the largest U.S.-owned plastics machinery maker. It's good to see the company take a clear leadership role and prove, once and for all, that there really are problems with U.S. import data.
We'd like to see SPI extend the effort and research the government's import data collection efforts on other types of plastics machinery. No one is served by bad import data, not even the importers.