Milacron Inc., which had 37 pieces of equipment at NPE 2000, is not taking any machines to NPE 2003 in Chicago this year.
``We want to invest money into our product development that really improves the competitiveness of our customers,'' said Harold Faig, president and chief operating officer. ``That's really the fundamental issue that we're driving.''
Milacron, like other machinery companies, is facing a depressed U.S. market that is approaching the three-year mark. Most industry observers say the slump began right after the last NPE in 2000. Officials of the publicly traded Milacron think the firm can break even this year, after losing money in 2001 and 2002.
But Faig, in a March 20 interview at Milacron's Cincinnati headquarters, insisted that the zero-machines decision is part of an overall strategy to help customers - not a short-term move to cut costs.
``There is no need to take iron to the show,'' he said. ``There are ways to show the features and benefits to customers without just having a piece of iron sitting there.''
Instead of machines making parts, Faig said, Milacron's booth at NPE, set for June 23-27 at McCormick Place, will feature ``islands of technology'' at kiosks staffed by experts who can explain technologies such as in-mold labeling, multicolor and multicomponent molding, sandwich molding and water-injection molding.
Faig and Ronald Brown, Milacron's chairman and chief executive officer, said the firm is directing money to helping customers with specific applications and develop new technologies. Faig said Milacron typically would spend about $2 million or $3 million to transport and set up working machines at a major trade show.
``Both of us have agreed we would rather take that money and put it in our product development, and not let product development suffer at all,'' he said.
Milacron, the world's second-largest plastics machinery maker, will be watched closely by competitors at NPE. Faig and Brown said other machinery makers may follow the lead at future shows.
``Our counterparts are loving this idea, because they all would like to find a way not to do it,'' Faig said. But he understands that competitors may put a negative spin on the firm's decision not to take any machines to McCormick Place.
``It's a bold risk, but the risk is worth it if we can get customers to come in and talk about things that they need to talk about,'' Faig said.