PHILADELPHIA—The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s efforts to clean up machinery import data gained support from exhibitors at the Plastics Show in this key port city.
``I think it's important for us to get true figures,'' said Kurt Fenske, vice president of sales and marketing at Engel North America, at the injection molding machine supplier's booth at Plastics Show Philadelphia.
The trade show ran April 7-9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. According to a study released last year, the high-volume ports of Philadelphia and New York had the most inaccurate reporting of any U.S. ports — more than 400 questionable shipments during a 25-month period. Philadelphia accepted 412 ``presses'' during a three-month period that turned out to be medical and dental supplies from Germany.
Robert Branand, a Washington lawyer, pored over data from January 1995 through January 1997 to document problems with the way U.S. Customs Service counts injection molding machines.
Cincinnati Milacron Inc., the largest U.S.-owned plastics machinery maker, paid for the study, which was done on behalf of SPI in Washington.
Milacron, which did not exhibit in Philadelphia, has long complained that U.S. data overstated the number of foreign-made injection presses coming into the United States. However, as measured by comments in Philadelphia, companies doing the importing also will support better numbers.
``I think Cincinnati Milacron has a legitimate complaint. Some of the screws and barrels, which are components, were listed as machines,'' said Robert Wheeler, sales manager at Maruka U.S.A. Inc. in Rockaway, N.J. Maruka distributors injection presses made by Osaka, Japan-based Toyo Machinery and Metal Co. Ltd.
SPI is working with the Customs Service to improve the data. Starting Jan. 1, importers must break down an injection molding machine by clamping force ranges, using four new 10-digit Harmonized Tariff System numbers. Branand has made presentations at ports.
U.S. companies have argued that the government numbers inflated machines coming from Japan. Wheeler said that, even if true, it certainly didn't help his operation. He doesn't want his bosses setting sales goals based on erroneous information.
``Everybody likes good data,'' Wheeler said.
Engel's Fenske agreed. He also called Canada's trade numbers ``totally out of whack.''
Engel North America, a unit of Austrian press-maker Engel Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH, manufacturs injection molding machines in York, Pa., and Guelph, Ontario.
From Fenske's standpoint, ``it's not a do-or-die situation'' for Engel. But he agreed with Wheeler that accurate projections are based on good shipment numbers. In Austria, ``my numbers are being questioned.''
European machine makers all cross-check numbers from three sources: SPI's voluntary numbers from its members, the U.S. government, and VDMA, the German Machinery and Plant Manufacturers Association.
That process isn't bad, but better U.S. data would help, said David Tremblay, product manager at another Plastics Show exhibitor, Battenfeld of America Inc. of West Warwick, R.I. The company is a unit of Germany's Battenfeld GmbH.
``We want to use the numbers for a couple of reasons. We want to judge how the economy is doing,'' Tremblay said.
Tremblay said the real problem is getting accurate numbers about Japanese imports.
Wheeler, the Toyo salesman, acknowledged there is a ``certain animosity'' among some U.S. suppliers that got hurt when imports started to enter the market in the 1980s.
But Wheeler added: ``It isn't the foreign manufacturers who are trying to pull the wool over everybody's eyes. It's the Customs Service.''
Dan Preston, senior vice president of Fortune International Inc. in Somerset, N.J., doesn't fret about the data when he sells Taiwanese injection presses from Victor Taichung Machinery Works Co. Ltd.
``If I start worrying about this competitor and that competitor, I have all of this data about my competitors, but no sales at the end of the month,'' he said.
For his imports study, Branand defined an injection molding machine' valued at less than $50,000 as questionable. In the 25-month period, he found that nearly one-third of the imported thermoplastic presses were questionable. And one-third of questionable presses were valued at $10,000 or less — a price far below reality.
Part of the problem, he said, were mistakes by brokers, U.S. Customs agents and freight forwarders.
SPI Machinery Division leaders will address the imports issue during the group's spring conference, April 18-21 in West Palm Beach, Fla.