LONG BEACH, CALIF. — Japanese-made electric presses abounded at the Western Plastics Expo, as Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. entered the electric fray.
Four other Japanese suppliers showed all-electric injection presses machines at WPE, held Jan. 12-14 in Long Beach: JSW Plastics Machinery Inc., Niigata Engineering Co. Ltd., Nissei America Inc. and Toyo Machinery & Metal Co. Ltd.
When it comes to Japanese electrics, Toshiba is the new kid on the block. The others have been making electric presses for years — but they delayed selling them to U.S. customers until recent years.
Toshiba first showed its machine in Germany, at K'98 in October. At WPE, the company's U.S. unit, Toshiba Machine Co. America of Elk Grove Village, Ill., molded parts on a 66-ton EC press.
All-electric machines boast lower electricity costs than hydraulic machines. Toshiba claims its machines cut energy costs more than 50 percent. That message rings true in California, where factories are plagued by high energy costs.
Toshiba Vice President Tim Glassburn said electric presses are breaking out of niche markets of medical and electronics molding. Custom molders are paying attention, he said.
``Customers that would not have thought about buying an electric machine are now seriously considering it. They get one reject and they have to take back the whole batch, so they're interested in high-precision molding,'' Glassburn said.
Tokyo-based Toshiba began making electric presses last year after signing a patent license agreement with Japan's Fanuc Ltd., Glassburn said. Toshiba pays Fanuc a royalty. According to news reports from Japan, the Fanuc patents covered the manufacturing technology and the structure of the servomotor.
Several other Japanese machinery makers have produced electric machines for more than a decade, but limited sales to their home markets. Now all of a sudden, these machines are hitting the U.S. market.
What took so long? At WPE, Japanese officials said their companies took a conservative approach to prove the machines at home, first.
JSW wanted to build a U.S. reputation for its toggle presses before bringing over the electrics, according to Bill Roebuck, vice president of marketing and sales of JSW in Anaheim, Calif.
``Almost a year-and-a-half ago, we became confident that we can sell this machine in overseas markets,'' he said.
Niigata followed a similar strategy.
``It wasn't proven in Japan. They wanted some history under their belt first,'' said Robert Columbus, general manager of Niigata's U.S. operation in Itasca, Ill.
Nissei America, also of Anaheim, showed its Elject ES electric press in Long Beach. Nissei developed its all-electric press back in 1983, but waited until 1996 to market it outside of Asia.
Toyo began building electric machines in 1985, and actually showed a tiny, 5-ton model at that year's Western Plastics Expo. It drew attention, but Toyo decided to hold off on sales, said Gary Smith, western regional sales manager.
``Our company wanted to prove out the technology before we brought it to the U.S.,'' he said.
Toyo sales are handled through Maruka USA of Rockaway, N.J. Smith said the Toyo electric presses will be available in the United States in April or May.