DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Small injection presses equaled big competition at K'98, as a slew of challengers shove into a market once dominated by German stalwarts Arburg Gmbh + Co. and Dr. Boy GmbH.
Arburg is fighting back by building a 132,000-square-foot addition at its headquarters complex in Lossburg, Germany, to make bigger machines with as much as 400 tons of clamping force.
Boy, on the other hand, has decided to stick with its small-press knittings of machines under 100 tons.
Meanwhile, at K'98:
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. introduced a new line of machines with clamping forces of 60, 90, 120 and 160 tons.
Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH dropped down to 33 tons.
Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. brought on a 30-ton machine.
Officials of Demag Ergotech GmbH touted a major expansion at Demag's small-press factory in Wiehe, Germany.
The activity means Arburg and Boy, both family-owned businesses, are facing off against some of the world's largest plastics machinery manufacturers. Both companies are celebrating milestone anniversary years in 1998, as Arburg turns 75 and Boy is 30 years old.
Boy's K theme of ``Our Specialization — Your Success'' summed up its stay-the-course philosophy.
``Our strong view is to stay in the sizes we are in now,'' said Rudy Lohl, managing director of sales and design. ``Boy keeps a very stable policy. We do not lose any market share due to the fact that others enter this market.''
Lohl said Boy has a very loyal customer base. Boy outsources components and does final assembly of about 1,000 presses a year at its plant in Fernthal, Germany. The highly automated plant makes a limited number of models, keeping costs low.
Containing costs, always an important issue in the competitive plastics machinery business, is even more critical with small machines, according to Boy and Arburg. A $1,000 cost is no problem on a 1,000-ton press worth several hundred thousand dollars. On a small press priced at less than $100,000, every dollar counts.
Demag Ergotech's strategy has been to give small-press assembly its own space and management, said Helmar Franz, managing director of Demag's plant in Wiehe. Its big expansion into small machines came in 1990, when Mannesmann Demag AG acquired a plant there. Demag steadily has pumped money into the operation and is adding a second production line, which will boost output to 2,500 a year from 1,500. The presses range from 25-110 tons; but next year, Demag plans to add a 161/2-ton machine. It makes bigger presses at its headquarters in Schwaig, Germany.
``The success of Demag was to form a separate facility to make small machines,'' Franz said in an interview at Demag's K show booth. ``Many of the things about small machines are different than a big machine.''
Several factors have buoyed small-press sales, including growth in electrical connectors and a move by some processors away from complex, multicavity molds.
Just before the K show, Arburg announced a major expansion in Lossburg to make machines in clamping forces as large as 400 tons. Right now, Arburg tops out at 240 tons, which it considers a midsize, not small, machine.
The 400-ton Arburgs should be available after 2000, said Heinrich Fritz, managing director of sales. Arburg, unlike Boy, makes all its components in-house.
Some machinery executives question Arburg's strategy of moving to bigger machines. Franz said: ``They have been successful because they concentrated on the smaller machines. If they go into bigger machines ... they will have trouble. The same goes for larger-machine companies now getting into small machines.''
Arburg's move is not being forced by the new competition, said Jack Downie, executive vice president of Arburg's U.S. headquarters in Newington, Conn.
``That is definitely not a defensive strategy,'' Downie said at K. ``It's an offensive strategy. We would be doing this whether or not some of those other guys were making small machines. It's what our customers want.''
Arburg's Fritz questioned competitors who suggest Arburg should limit its sizes.
``We don't think that in the long run companies can survive only up to 80 [metric] tons,'' he said.
For their part, the full-line machine players say they need small machines to round out their product offerings. Husky, which used to make small machines in the 1970s, has returned to the market because of customer demand, said Bruce Coxhead, Husky's general manager of small-tonnage machines.
Coxhead said about three-fifths of all injection molding machines sold are less than 200 tons.
Krauss-Maffei has added a 33-ton machine, based on the same platform as its C-series presses. The Munich, Germany, firm plans to expand in both directions, small and large, said Walter Wohlrab, Krauss-Maffei's chief designer for injection molding. The firm now offers presses of 44 and 55 tons.
Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd., which also exhibited at K, has extended its line down to 30 tons.