As NPE 2003 approaches, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. reports machinery sales have started to rebound from a cyclical bottom, as U.S. shipments grew slightly last year, to $1.19 billion.
An economist who analyzed the SPI data predicts NPE will help lead a pickup in sales in the second half of the year.
Measured in dollar sales, plastics machinery eked out a 2.5 percent increase in 2002, over the 2001 shipment figure of $1.16 billion. U.S. spending on overall industrial machinery fell in 2002, SPI said.
SPI reported growth both in dollar sales and units for extruders and auxiliary equipment in 2002. Blow molding machines fell measured in units, but grew based on dollar sales.
The key injection molding machine sector was essentially flat, at 3,536 presses valued at $686.9 million for 2002.
Screws and barrels both declined in 2002 from 2001 levels, SPI said.
Released June 2 by SPI's Committee on Equipment Statistics, the report gives some cautious good news to the embattled plastics machinery sector, as suppliers prepare for the largest U.S. trade show, scheduled for June 23-27 in Chicago.
This year machinery executives largely have refrained from issuing pumped-up sales expectations from NPE. One reason: Many executives say sales began to fall shortly after the last NPE in 2000, which set a record for attendance. Then in 2001, the bottom fell out and U.S. plastics machinery shipments plunged 40 percent.
2003 started slowly. But economist Bill Wood said plastics machinery shipments should reach a more substantial gain of at least 8 percent in the second half, after NPE.
``Everybody will be able to say to themselves, hey, this will be substantially better. That is positive news, because a lot of people are still fearful that the worst is not over,'' said Wood, who handled the analysis for SPI.
Processors still are cautious about buying equipment, but most realize they have to improve to fight off competition from China and other low-wage regions, said Wood, president of Mountaintop Economics & Research Inc. in Colrain, Mass.
``We're coming out of a recession. What better time to unveil a new attack, a new paradigm? Something's got to happen here,'' Wood said.
Right now the problem is the economy is growing so slowly it is imperceptible to most people. U.S manufacturing ``is marking time, it's treading water. It's not growing but it's not really declining,'' Wood said. ``Overall, for the manufacturing sector, you could almost take a ruler out and draw a straight line across for the last 12 months.''
A profit squeeze has held back spending, but SPI said total U.S. corporate profit increased more than 7 percent in 2002, after declining by that same amount in the year before.
Here is a look at the machinery segments for 2002. The term ``shipments'' means machines delivered to U.S. customers, including both domestic and imported equipment.
After increasing in units during each of the first three quarters, injection presses fell back a bit in the fourth quarter. For all of 2002, U.S. press shipments totaled 3,536 for a slight decline of 1.4 percent from 2001 shipments of 3,585.
In 2000, the last good year, shipments reached 6,420 presses.
Measured in dollars, injection press shipments totaled $686.9 million in 2002 and $688.7 million in 2001.
Looking at the quarterly numbers, press shipment sales began to move ahead of the year-earlier period in the third and fourth quarter.
Blow molding machinery units fell by 36.5 percent, to 108 machines in 2001, down from 170 units in 2001. By dollar amounts, blow molding machines hit $84.9 million, up 5.6 percent from $80.4 million,
After hanging around the 22-unit mark for the first three quarters, blow molding machines jumped to 45 units in the fourth quarter.
Washington-based SPI now is releasing extruder figures in both dollar amounts and units, after previously only giving out unit numbers. The report includes both single-screw and twin-screw machines.
Extruders showed a modest rebound. SPI said 914 extruders were shipped in 2002, a 3.6 percent improvement from 882 units in 2001. According to the report, the value of extruders totaled $120.1 million, up 2.9 percent from $116.7 million the year before.
Bookings of auxiliaries grew a solid 8.2 percent, reaching $298.5 million in 2002, from $275.9 million in 2001. There also was a 30.8 percent increase in bookings from the fourth quarter of 2002 from the fourth quarter a year earlier.
The auxiliary segment includes temperature controllers, chillers, cooling towers, blenders, conveyors, tanks, dryers, granulators and robots.
Screws and barrels
Screw and barrel shipments both declined for all of 2002.
SPI said the 7,122 screws represented a decline of 15.3 percent from the 2001 figure of 8,405 screws. SPI measures only single screws.
A total of 7,451 barrels were shipped, down 7.6 percent from 8,065 in 2001.