SCHWAIG, GERMANY — Demag Ergotech GmbH, which introduced an Ergotech Elexis hybrid electric/hydraulic machine at K'98, expects overall unit sales to grow 18 percent this year, to 2,250 presses.
The Elexis features a patented servo-electric drive system that runs the toggle clamp and screw rotation. Hydraulic power moves the injection unit and ancillary functions, such as core pull and ejectors.
According to Demag Ergotech, using both electric and hydraulic power gives the molder a combination of speed and high pressure. Fully ``all-electric'' machines mean the molder chooses either speed or high-pressure injection, the company claims.
At K, a 220-ton Elexis molded a polypropylene flower pot in a 31/2 second cycle.
The machinery maker also announced its entrance into PET preform molding, plus a new Ergotech Rapid high-speed injection press.
The sales numbers, announced during a pre-K'98 news conference in Schwaig, mark the second good year for Demag Ergotech. In 1997, company moved 1,908 injection molding machines, 42 percent more than the 1,341 machines sold in 1996, according to Wolfgang von Schroter, executive managing director.
Despite the unit volume growth, the value of sales should be flat this year, at about $280 million, he said.
Unit sales should grow dramatically during the next five years, since Demag Ergotech wants to expand its small-press plant in Wiehe, Germany. Wiehe now is at full capacity, turning out 1,500 machines a year, said Helmar Franz, managing director of the Wiehe operation.
After officials add a second assembly line and additional machining center, Wiehe should reach a capacity of 2,000-2,500 units by the year 2003, he said.
Wiehe builds hydraulic presses in clamping forces of 25-110 tons. A tiny new 15-ton press was shown at K.
Demag Ergotech has invested about $40 million in the Wiehe plant since acquiring the old East German operation in 1991, Franz said.
Demag Ergotech's headquarters plant, in Schwaig, builds toggle machines from 125-1,500 tons. The Schwaig plant has set up a flexible manufacturing system that company officials say will improve quality.
``Each area acts like a company within a company,'' Peter Klein, PET systems sales manager, said during a tour at Schwaig.
Workers in each department are responsible for quality of parts such as hydraulic manifolds, injection units and screws. There are no direct quality-control supervisors.
Demag Ergotech has eliminated its old practice of piece rates, according to von Schroter. Now the machinery company pays straight wages and bonuses.
Like other German manufacturers faced with high labor costs, Demag Ergotech is trying to become more efficient with fewer workers. In the early 1990s, the Schwaig plant employed 900 workers. Today, 700 people work there, von Schroter said. The Wiehe plant employs 390.
Von Schroter said Germany's 11 percent unemployment is a problem, but he said: ``We simply cannot afford to have the luxury of high head counts. ... The manufacturers of injection molding machines have all totally re-engineered their companies and emerged stronger than before.''
Another giant issue in Europe is the upcoming single currency, the euro.
``We as an industry pushed for this. We support the euro. It means there's no need for hedging anymore,'' von Schroter said, referring to the way machinery companies set prices between European countries.
At K'98, Demag Ergotech built on its modular Ergotech machine platform, first shown at K'92. Company themes at the 1998 K show included thin-wall molding, multicolor/multicomponent molding and medical parts.
The Ergotech Rapid is designed to mold thin-wall parts at a high rate of speed — injection moves at nearly 40 feet a second. Most high-speed machines make packaging, but the company thinks the technology will grow in technical parts as well.
Rapid presses come in clamping forces of 137, 165, 220 and 363 tons.
The machine has an electric screw drive. Injection accelerates quickly, thanks to hydraulic accumulators working with a servo-valve.
In another packaging development, Demag Ergotech has entered the market for PET preform machines. The company's offering uses coinjection to make preforms with three layers or five layers. Inner layers can be recycled PET or, for beer and milk-based drinks, barrier layers of polyamide.
Demag Ergotech worked with blow molder Schmalbach-Lubeca AG of Ratingen, Germany, under a three-year, exclusive agreement. Klein, the PET sales manager, said that agreement is over and Demag is free to sell the machines to others.
Initially, the company has targeted smaller manufacturers of beer, dairy and fruit juices, Klein said.
Demag Ergotech also contributed to the K show theme of medical plastics. At its stand, the firm molded a clear polycarbonate part for a blood tester, using a clean-room tent over the clamping side of the machine. At a K'98 medical exhibit, an Ergotech produced a PC medical drainage tube on an eight-cavity mold.
The German company also detailed its new China manufacturing operation, with partner Ningbo Haitian Corp. Ltd. Annual capacity should reach 300 machines by the year 2000 at the plant, in Ningbo, China.
Demag Ergotech claims a 13 percent market share in European injection presses, by unit number. Its share has risen about one point each of the past two years.
Despite economic problems in Asia, von Schroter was optimistic at the pre-K news conference, held in June. But he said the business cycle seems to be getting shorter.
``The extreme peaks and downturns are getting more and more pronounced,'' he said.
Von Schroter said the U.S. market, at 9,000 machines, has become stagnant, but at a high level. The European machinery rebound, which began in 1997, should continue, he predicted.