The slowing automotive industry has hit home in Mount Gilead, Ohio, as HPM Corp. laid off 76 people at its factory that makes injection presses, extruders and die-casting machines.
Other major North American injection press makers said they have not had to lay off workers — despite slow sales as overall U.S. manufacturing slumps to its lowest point in a decade.
William Flickinger, HPM's president and chief operating officer, said the company laid off 76 employees in November, December and January. The layoffs cover salaried and hourly employees in both plastics machines and die casting, he said.
The laid-off workers could be recalled, depending on business activity, Flickinger said.
"We continue to monitor the workload in the shop. It will fluctuate up and down," Flickinger said.
With the layoffs, HPM now employs about 290 hourly and 125 salaried workers, he said.
In recent weeks, automotive cutbacks have cascaded through the plastics industry. DaimlerChrysler AG announced it will close six factories and eliminate 20 percent of its work force, some 26,000 jobs. Jobs are being slashed at major suppliers, including Delphi Automotive Systems, Visteon Corp. and Textron Automotive Co. Inc.
Flickinger said the automotive market accounts for 50 percent of HPM's business for injection molding presses and die-casting machines.
"Certainly, the injection molding industry is closely tied to the automotive industry," he said. "Certainly, a significant portion of our customers are telling me they've had to cut back because of the automotive reduction."
HPM's extrusion systems business has held up, Flickinger said.
"Our plastics extrusion still remains, overall, the strongest of our product lines, and we've seen less drop in activity there than we have in other product lines."
Other injection press makers contacted in early February reported no layoffs.
Van Dorn Demag Corp. did remain closed the full week between Christmas and New Year's Day, instead of working the short, four-day week, said President William G. Pryor. Employees of the Strongsville, Ohio, company had several options, including taking vacation days or unpaid days off.
Pryor said automotive accounts for about 25-30 percent of Van Dorn Demag's press business.
Tom Jarrold, spokesman for Milacron Inc., said Milacron has not had any recent layoffs. In a recent conference call to stock analysts, executives said automotive customers generate 18-24 percent of sales at Milacron's Plastics Technologies Group in Batavia, Ohio.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. also has not had any layoffs, said a spokesman for the Bolton, Ontario, company.
Engel North America has not laid off employees at either of its two plants, in Guelph, Ontario, and York, Pa., said Vice President Kurt Fenske.
One smaller press builder, Reed-Prentice Ltd., let go three of its 16 employees in West Springfield, Mass., President Katherine Putnam said.
"I see two things going on when I talk to our customers," she said. "The custom molders are really hit by the strong dollar, which means imported parts are cheaper. They're also hit by resin costs."