DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Any machinery manufacturer can make money during boom times. The real challenge, according to Battenfeld GmbH's Helmut Eschwey, is turning a profit when the bottom falls out.
Those words could turn out to be prophetic, as economic tumult in Asia threatens to spread to other parts of the world.
But Eschwey said Battenfeld — the German manufacturer of injection molding machines, extruders and film equipment — has positioned itself to turn a profit even in a downturn.
``We have successfully reduced the break-even margin to 70-80 percent of the business volume in peak years,'' Eschwey said in an interview before the K show.
At K'98 in Dusseldorf, Battenfeld introduced a new series of toggle-clamp injection presses and new injection machines that mold tiny parts. Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc., of Gloucester, Mass., showed a seven-layer blown film line, which debuted at NPE 1997 in Chicago.
Battenfeld, based in Meinerzhagen, Germany, faces stiff competition from the new mega-player, Mannesmann Plastics Machinery AG, which owns six machine companies that generated $1.3 billion-plus sales last year.
Battenfeld's sales are less than half that, but Eschwey said Battenfeld is positioning itself as a global, but proudly independent, German machinery company.
``We do not agree with the predictions of some of our competitors of continued consolidation in the plastics machinery sector,'' he said.
Unlike MPM, which is 80 percent injection molding, Battenfeld touts its balanced portfolio in injection molding, extrusion and film. The company sold its blow molding machine lines in 1996.
``For Battenfeld, it is more important to have a conservative balance sheet than it is to look every morning at the stock exchange,'' Eschwey said.
At the same time, Battenfeld is a worldwide player, with production in Germany, the United States, India, Brazil and China.
For the 1997-98 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Battenfeld sales were $500 million, a 15 percent increase from the year before. Injection molding accounted for half of the total, or about $250 million.
In North America, Eschwey said, the company expects sales growth in large-tonnage injection presses and in small machines. Wolfgang Meyer, president of Battenfeld of America Inc. in West Warwick, R.I., said 1997-98 was a good year for multimaterial machines for automotive, and for overmolding machines.
In film and sheet, Eschwey said, Battenfeld wants to become stronger in Europe, where Battenfeld Gloucester is ``significantly underrepresented.'' The company has a 50 percent market share in the United States, he said.
American Maplan Corp., in McPherson, Kan., holds a strong U.S. position in extruders for pipe and siding. Eschwey said the firm is growing in profile extrusion.
Europe accounts for nearly half of Battenfeld's sales. About one-third comes from North America. Machinery sales to Asia are about 6 percent, down from a traditional level of 10 percent, Eschwey said.
Battenfeld officials outlined K'98 offerings:
The new TM series of toggle machines are priced about 20 percent less than Battenfeld's high-end BK toggle press. Meyer said the TM incorporates a similar clamp as Battenfeld's T machine, and a similar injection unit as its HM presses. In Dusseldorf, Battenfeld ran two TM presses — a 55-tonner molding polypropylene syringes in a 16-cavity mold and a 300-ton machine making a technical part. Both machines were equipped with the new Unilog B2 controller. Battenfeld will continue to offer its BK press.
A new 5-ton Microsystem 50/2 machine is designed to mold parts that weigh less than one-tenth of a gram. According to Meyer, the molding area on all-electric Microsystem machines is a self-contained Class 100 clean room—the same level as an operating room. That purity is required because the machine is designed to run medical parts of the future, such as biosensors, that are implanted in the body. Other parts include automotive crash sensors and read-write heads on disk drives.
``It is an emerging market,'' Meyer said. ``Battenfeld wants to be in this market early on, and be a leader.''
Here's how it works: A vertical screw pumps resin into a dosing cylinder, which is set at a 45-degree angle to the molding area. A horizontal plunger pumps resin into the mold. The machine has a rotary table, with an injection station and a parts-removal station. A robot removes the tiny parts.
Battenfeld demonstrated Micro-system technology with three machines. One press molded a polycarbonate sensor housing that weighs just 0.002 gram and is designed to be implanted under the skin of a human ear. Other parts included an acetal gear for a watch and a glass-reinforced actuator pin for an automotive switch. All three parts ran on four-cavity molds.
A new vertical press, dubbed Vertical R, comes in clamping forces up to 220 tons. Dual-pump hydraulics reduce cycle times, the company said.
The Insider Concept, a compact, ready-made production cell that includes an injection press, robots and conveyor belt — all enclosed in integrated safety guarding. The system comes with injection presses as large as 500 tons. At K, the equipment produced pipe fittings.
In blown film, K'98 marked the first European trade show for Battenfeld Gloucester's seven-layer blown film line. New (but not displayed at K) is a nine-layer line for packaging items such as meat and cheese, said Harold Wrede, Battenfeld Gloucester president and chief executive officer.
In cast film, Battenfeld introduced the Model 700. It runs a wider web at higher speeds than earlier models. For example, a 120-inch-wide line can run as much as 1,900 feet a minute of linear low density polyethylene film.
In extrusion, the firm showed a single-screw extruder that can make 2,200 pounds of PE pipe an hour. Screw diameter is 1 inch.
A twin-screw extruder for running PVC has multiflight screw elements, giving the screw a very large surface area.
New coextrusion dies were shown on a conical BEX 2-54 CC/1 twin-screw extruder.
The Excool secondary screw for foam extrusion. A departure from the traditional paddle-type secondary screws, Excool is claimed to boost polystyrene foam sheet output rates by more than 20 percent on a tandem line. So far, Battenfeld has proved the Excool works on PS and PE foam. Tests are under way on PP and PET foam. The company also introduced an Opticell Annular Foam Sheet Die that controls thickness better, and a new metering system using carbon dioxide as a blowing agent.
Battenfeld also demonstrated its HM hydraulic presses, running an automotive fascia from a PC/polybutylene terephthalate. In 1997, Battenfeld started a U.S. manufacturing operation, making HM presses in Bellefonte, Pa.
Eschwey said Battenfeld expects to build five or six HM machines in Pennsylvania this year, down from the original target of 10 a year. A weaker dollar would make it more economical to build machines in the United States, he said.