NPE 2003 wasn't too bad. That was the general consensus of people from injection molding press makers I talked to as NPE wound down on Thursday and Friday, as the crowds thinned to a trickle.
Those final, dull hours are when everyone wants to hear your thoughts on the show. It can get deeply contemplative there in McCormick Place, yes sir.
So here you go: NPE was pretty good. Yes, machinery makers actually sold some equipment at the show. In fact, I heard this so much on my NPE “beat” of injection press companies — “hey, we sold machines here” — that I have to believe that lots of people really didn't expect to make any sales in Chicago this NPE.
There were not very many big product launches. Some companies held news conferences where the headline was a brand-new size of machine. But to be fair, NPEs sometimes are like that. If you absolutely must see radical new things, especially from the key European equipment suppliers, then you have to journey to Dusseldorf, Germany, for the K show to get that type of guarantee.
This NPE, opinions about the show were shaped by psychology and low expectations. It's pretty simple, really. U.S. plastics machinery sales plunged 40 percent or more after the NPE 2000 boom, and have pretty much stayed there for three years. China didn't seem so threatening when things were booming, but the recession exposed that giant sucking sound. NPE 2003 started out with low expectations, so most injection press people I talked to thought the show was good.
In the broad U.S. economy, the same sort of psychology is at work in the recovery. Businesses are waiting for solid signs the economy is stronger before they invest in machinery and new plants. People who have jobs are waiting, holding their breath that they don't get laid off.
Everyone seems to be waiting. But China isn't standing still. And sooner or later, each U.S. processor is going to have to make a decision — give up, or make the adjustments needed to survive, including targeted spending on new technology.
At NPE 2003, one injection press executive contacted our newsroom to report his company sold four machines! In today's environment, that is big news.
“Moving the iron” has never been tougher. Some of the swagger was gone, but machinery folks seemed happy to be in Chicago. They sold machines. They joked with buddies at competing booths.
Another NPE wound down. Everybody was still standing. It was time to grab a beer.
The July 21 cover story looks at multicomponent molding. Molders should be realistic. Dabbling around by purchasing one multicomponent press isn't going to “save” you from China. But if you have the cash and the commitment, the process can give you a leg up as more products embrace two or more plastic materials and colors.