SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — SPI's Machinery Division is working hard to rid the U.S. plastics industry of the albatross of inaccurate, tainted trade statistics that long has hung around its neck.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. unit is revamping its entire data-gathering program and expects June 1 to implement a newly created Committee on Equipment Statistics, according to Lori Anderson, SPI's director of economic and international trade issues.
``It is my goal to have a truly global-type report fully running by January 2000,'' she said in a recent interview.
The division's statistics-gathering efforts have been dogged by sloppiness, incompleteness and the lack of a structured, professional program — all of which undermined confidence in the data. This morass has been compounded by wildly inaccurate and unreliable machinery import statistics from the federal government.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that SPI data and government statistics are not comparable, in that the former tracks only actual sales by division member companies, and the U.S. Census Bureau counts all imports, regardless of whether those units are warehoused or modified and shipped on to another country.
The SPI, working in conjunction with key industry players such as Milacron Inc., is making substantial headway in addressing both problems, according to parties involved in the efforts.
Anderson, who has been spearheading this project since Jan. 1, told a record number of 138 delegates at the joint May 2-5 meeting of SPI's machinery and mold maker divisions in Scottsdale that efforts to improve and expand the collection and dissemination of global machinery and equipment sales data are gaining momentum. Others agree.
``I think we've made more progress in the last four months'' than since November 1997, when the Machinery Division assumed financial responsibility for managing its statistics, said Bill Carteaux, vice president of marketing for Van Dorn Demag Corp., and a member of the division's current statistics committee. Previously, he admitted in an interview in Scottsdale, the process was so sloppy that ``we were disseminating information to people who shouldn't get it.''
Anderson said there has been little conformity in reporting procedures or even types of data collected by the different sections within the Machinery Division itself. That limited the usefulness of such information for measuring industry health, forecasting trends and the like. And she noted that recent surveys by SPI of its members indicated that statistics programs are ``one of the primary reasons companies belong to a trade association.''
So the Machinery Division sacked the outside vendor it had hired just last spring to serve as a third-party fiduciary and last fall rehired Association Survey Resources of Bethesda, Md., which it had dumped for being too expensive. The previous vendor did a poor job and even was making basic math mistakes, according to Anderson.
The new CES core committee intends to collect data from manufacturers representing 95 percent or more of all plastics machinery production worldwide, rendering the government-provided data largely irrelevant. Future CES reports will track injection and blow molding, extrusion, auxiliary equipment, and components such as screws and barrels. The group plans to investigate including data on molds as well.
The dearth of reliable statistics prompted the division to stop publicly releasing its machinery data two years ago. It also caused Milacron, the largest U.S. plastics machinery maker, last year to begin withholding its data from the statistics committee, in a further attempt to hasten change, according to industry sources. But with clear progress afoot, the committee expects the Cincinnati-based giant to share its numbers again soon. Otherwise, Milacron would not have a voice in policy decisions likely to be made by the CES.
Bill Gruber, vice president of U.S. operations for Milacron's Plastics Technologies Group, could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.
Milacron earned praise from several parties at the division meeting for, as Carteaux said, ``stepping up to the plate'' and providing leadership and funding to help address the festering problem of sloppy reporting of injection molding machine imports by the federal government. Milacron funded a study for SPI in 1997 that revealed egregious mistakes by the Customs Service and helped spur efforts to educate customs officials and improve the process.
Meanwhile, the Machinery Division's other challenge is to convince firms to cooperate in the program, including some that have refused to participate in the past.
``We'll have an organized recruitment process, not an old-boy network, with a slap on the back,'' said Anderson.
In Scottsdale she was heartened by the fact that she was approached after her May 4 presentation by William H. Roebuck of JSW Plastics Machinery Inc., a Japanese-owned injection press maker that previously has refused to participate fully in the division's statistics program. Asked later about the possibility that JSW may decide to cooperate, Roebuck, vice president of marketing and sales at the firm's Anaheim, Calif.-based U.S. headquarters, said: ``We're taking it under consideration. I've asked Lori to come meet with our president.''
Another Japanese-owned injection machine maker, Nissei America Inc., also is a key target of Anderson's. That Anaheim-based firm is the biggest player that has declined to join the statistics program.
Machinery Division members voted unanimously in Scottsdale to replace the current ad hoc statistics committee with the new, permanent CES. The full SPI board is expected to approve the action at its late-May board meeting. That would allow the 12-person CES executive board to hold its first meeting in Chicago during the June 15-17 Plastics Fair exhibition.
Anderson said the goals of the CES will include providing information on imports and exports for each industry segment; tracking global sales by geographical regions, such as Europe; perhaps refining U.S. data by state or at least by region; and, if possible, including more end-use-market data, such as automotive, medical, etc.
It will be up to the committee's executive board to determine the frequency of the reports, but Anderson has set her sights high.
``I'd like to do monthly reports eventually — that would be an unbelievable resource.'' She also said she will encourage the CES to disseminate select summary report data broadly, including to nonmembers and the trade press, in the belief that such exposure is beneficial to the plastics industry at large.