After a four-year absence, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is releasing statistics publicly again - pulling back the curtain to reveal a much more detailed report that will be available on the Internet.
Leaders of SPI's Committee on Equipment Statistics hope the quarterly reports will help to raise the visibility of the plastics processing machinery sector, which racked up $1.94 billion worth of U.S. shipments of extruders, injection presses, blow molding machines and auxiliary equipment in 2000. SPI also is reporting data on components - screws and barrels for injection molding and extrusion.
``2000 is the year we're going to report on, and 2000 has, perhaps for the first time ever, a complete, accurate accounting of the picture of the industry,'' said Bill Gruber, chairman of the Committee on Equipment Statistics.
These days, with the machinery sector in the doldrums, that information is largely negative. The first round of the newly released statistics reflects the big falloff in machinery sales that began in the third quarter of 2000. The drop caught machine builders by surprise, after the NPE 2000 show, which set an attendance record.
In years past, the SPI Machinery Division numbers were plagued by too few companies reporting. That undermined the accuracy of the information. At the same time, import data gathered by the Customs Service came under fire when an investigation showed widespread problems at U.S. ports, such as aluminum ingots being counted as injection presses.
The Machinery Division stopped publicly releasing the numbers in 1997, although internal reports still were sent to member companies.
``We want to get the right information out there, as opposed to misinformation,'' Gruber said.
Now the Committee on Equipment Statistics, led by Lori Anderson, SPI's director of economic and international affairs, is back with data for public consumption - by the media, analysts, researchers and anybody interested in plastics machinery.
Anderson said the public portions of the full-year 2000 report, and a report for the first quarter of 2001, will be online by June 13. The data is available as part of the online SPI Economic Report, which appears as a separate section of Plastics News' Web site at www.plasticsnews.com/spier.
Gruber said 28 companies now report their injection press numbers. About three-quarters of those suppliers, including Milacron, import machines into the United States.
``One thing we wanted to start steering things away from is this concept of domestic vs. imported machines. In a global market, it may be interesting, but it's not really a factor to our customers,'' he said.
The statistics committee convinced some major non-U.S. holdouts to report information for the first time, including three Japanese-owned companies: Nissei America Inc., JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. and Meiki America Corp.
One ultimate goal is to get the quarterly machinery reports picked up by the media, such as the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg news service, according to Gruber, president of Milacron Inc.'s Ferromatik Milacron North America business.
Gruber and other Milacron officials often hold up as a role model the machine-tool statistics published each month by the Association of Manufacturing Technology. Gruber said a ``long, long-term goal'' is to publish a comprehensive annual handbook of global data, similar to AMT.
Milacron's support has been crucial to the SPI statistics effort, since Milacron is the largest U.S. manufacturer of plastics machines. Milacron's Plastics Technologies Group in Batavia, Ohio, makes all major types of equipment, including injection presses, blow molding machines and extruders, plus screws and mold components.
Gruber, who recently was named statistics committee chairman for another two-year term, through 2003, said a machinery company has two main reasons to be active in a trade association: safety standards and industry statistics.
Anderson unveiled the new statistical data in May, when she spoke at the Machinery Division's spring conference in Phoenix. After her presentation, machinery executives praised the statistics effort.
``You can judge a marketplace much better in certain categories,'' said Martin Stark, president of Bekum America Corp., which makes blow molding machines in Williamston, Mich. Bekum's parent company is based in Berlin, so Stark gets to see detailed reports from VDMA, Germany's trade association for plastics machinery makers.
SPI is talking to VDMA, Italy's Assocomaplast and other trade associations in Asia about sharing data.
Bill Carteaux of Van Dorn Demag Corp. said SPI wants to emulate another group, the National Automobile Dealers Association, which puts out monthly statistics.
``We want to be known as the source for plastics industry information,'' said Carteaux, vice president of sales and marketing for the injection press maker in Strongsville, Ohio.
``We've finally got a comprehensive program,'' said Robert Ackley, president of Davis-Standard Corp. in Pawcatuck, Conn.
The company makes extruders, accumulator-head blow molding machines and equipment for coating wire and cable. Ackley said it is important to publicly release the data.
``It shows we're a significant factor, from the employment standpoint, from the economic standpoint. It also helps [those of us] in the industry, both with short-range budgetary planning and long-range strategic planning.''
The reports also will help processors gauge the health of the plastics industry, said Tim Glassburn, vice president of Toshiba Machine Co. America, an injection press supplier in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
``It's definitely a measure of the health of the industry,'' he said.
Plastics News Editor Robert Grace contributed to this story.