The importance of SPI Machinery Division's quest to compile and disseminate accurate trade data for plastics equipment should not be underestimated. Because it is so significant, it is heartening that the division is reporting progress in improving and formalizing the statistical program.
An umbrella group such as the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is the logical repository for information that helps define the size, scope and importance of the plastics industry at large. Additionally, SPI says its own research indicates that market data and statistics are one of the most-valued features members cite for belonging to a trade association.
The Germans, Japanese and Italians — some of the world's most important producers of plastics machinery — gather and annually publish generally reliable, national machinery trade statistics. It is an industry embarrassment that U.S. numbers have been the weak link in the chain of global data for so long.
Fortunately, that appears about to change. But more hard work, combined with increased cooperation by all companies involved, is needed. Intensive effort recently by the Machinery Division — led by Lori Anderson, SPI director of economic and international trade issues — has established a formal structure to achieve that aim, complete with bylaws and an executive board. The old-boys'-club approach is giving way to a professionally managed plan.
SPI's new Committee on Equipment Statistics, expected to be implemented June 1, can provide critical data to help analysts, politicians, economists, equipment makers and their processor customers assess the industry's health and key market trends. Another worthy goal: Make the SPI data so good that no one has any reason to refer to the federal government's error-plagued equipment import statistics.
Two big hurdles remain: getting all parties to participate in the voluntary program, and then agreeing to disseminate at least the summary findings broadly.
It frankly is not surprising that some key players in the past have chosen to remain on the sidelines rather than engage in an exercise of distinctly dubious merit. Anderson wonders if some of those companies were even approached formally and asked to participate. You can bet they will be now.
It is time for those reluctant data providers — particularly the big Japanese-owned Nissei America Inc. and JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. and the German-owned Arburg Inc. — to join the program, to help ensure it is as complete and accurate as possible.
We strongly urge the new committee's executive board, due to meet for the first time June 14 in Chicago, to expand its mission to include Canadian production and trade data, and to release its summary findings publicly on a regular basis. To do otherwise would limit the value of the statistics that CES succeeds in gathering. If certain division members have concerns about how the numbers might be interpreted by the trade press or others, then the division simply has to do a thorough job of communicating how to interpret them correctly.
Executing this project correctly is fundamental to helping people inside and outside the plastics industry gain a greater appreciation of the industry's overall importance to global trade and to the U.S. manufacturing base.