As the three-year slump in plastics machinery dragged on, equipment sales people spent 2003 waiting ... for orders ... for the economy to pick up ... for something good to happen.
Robot makers were one of the few bright spots for U.S. machinery, as processors looked to shave labor costs to the bone to keep work from moving offshore.
At NPE 2003 in June, automation and ``value-added'' technologies such as multishot molding were everywhere. But reflecting the weak economy, NPE registration fell by 30 percent from the record-setting level of the previous show in 2000.
During the year, Milacron Inc. made news by what it didn't take to NPE - any machines - and by the sudden departure of its No. 2 man, Harold Faig, who left to join a premier U.S. molder, Tech Group Inc.
Several other companies had a changing of the guard, including Netstal-Maschinen AG, Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH, SMS Plastics Technology, Engel Holding GmbH and Kiefel Inc.
For machinery manufacturers, 2003 offered more of the same dismal story. Many sectors of the U.S. plastics industry had too much excess capacity. When big U.S. injection molding factories closed, the machines were auctioned off. That hurt the prices of new presses - and made it hard to turn a profit for suppliers.
On a brighter note, as 2003 grinds to a close, some upbeat economic data is hitting the news. Machinery executives are reporting a pickup in quoting activity and - most importantly - real orders.
Here's a look back at the past year, for better or worse.
Bernard Merki was promoted to president and chief executive officer of Netstal-Maschinen AG, a Swiss injection press maker. He replaced Dieter Klug, who retired after a decade at Netstal.
Milacron Inc., which hauled 37 pieces of equipment to the 2000 NPE, caused a stir when officials confirmed they would not take any machines this time around. Instead, the company featured kiosks staffed by experts to explain technology, and live video feeds.
President Mark Panozzo led a management team that bought Black Clawson Converting Machinery LLC from owner Carl Landegger. The company makes cast film equipment and extrusion coating machinery.
Josef MÃ¤rtl was named to the top post of machinery maker Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH. The position was left open when Wilhelm SchrÃ¶der left the company in September 2002.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. announced it may assemble injection presses at its technical center under construction in Shanghai, China. Hot-runner production will kick off in early 2004.
Global plastics machinery statistics became more transparent, as the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. secured Japan's agreement to share equipment data with the United States and Germany.
Japan Steel Works Ltd. opened a U.S. facility in Edinburgh, Ind., to sell twin-screw compounding extruders.
The Japanese company that makes Niigata injection presses emerged from court protection from creditors and formed a new company, Niigata Machine Techno Co. Ltd.
NPE 2003 had its every-three-year run June 23-27 at Chicago's McCormick Place. Technical news centered on robots, multishot injection presses and ways to survive against competition from China. Attendance was off, as registration plunged 30 percent, to 63,238 from the record-setting NPE 2000 number of 90,142.
Entek Extruders said it was spending $5.8 million to expand manufacturing of twin-screw compounding extruders at its headquarters in Lebanon, Ore.
Helmut Eschwey said he would leave SMS Plastics Technology, which makes Battenfeld, American Maplan and Cincinnati Extrusion equipment brands, to become top executive at German precious metals and technology giant Heraeus Holding GmbH. In September, SMS named Steffen Burghoff to replace Eschwey.
Milacron announced it would cut 300 nonmanufacturing jobs as part of a restructuring plan aimed at saving $20 million a year.
Davis-Standard Corp. said it would lay off about 50 employees at its headquarters plant in Pawcatuck, Conn.
Engel Holding GmbH, an Austrian injection press maker, named Peter Neumann chairman of the managing board. Also, Walter Jungwirth was named president of the North American operation, Engel Machinery Inc. Engel also got its own line of PET preform injection presses, as it took over SIG Corpoplast's Premax PET line. Engel renamed the machine MacPET.
Milacron sold Minnesota Twist Drill in August, then in September sold the Talbot round metal-cutting tool business.
Coperion Corp. announced it would stop making Werner & Pfleiderer compounding extruders in Ramsey, N.J. - ending 27 years of U.S. manufacturing. The firm also cut 70 jobs in two rounds of layoffs.
Toshiba Machine Co. America had a shakeup of some key sales managers, laying off several veterans and reassigning others, including Vice President Tim Glassburn, to new positions.
SMS Plastics Technology asked its suppliers to give back 7 percent retroactive rebates, plus discounts for goods it plans to buy in 2004 and 2005.
Battenfeld of America Inc. announced it would move to Chicago from West Warwick, R.I., its home for more than 20 years.
``Synergy'' became real at Mannesmann Plastics Machinery GmbH, which used the Fakuma show in Germany to announce plans to build a factory in Eastern Europe that will manufacture components for its member companies. MPM also said it plans to double Demag Plastics Group's production in China and India and add technical centers in China for Netstal and Krauss-Maffei.
JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. said it was reopening its technical center in Elk Grove Village, Ill. The Japanese injection press maker closed it a year earlier, in response to the poor U.S. market.
MPM said Van Dorn's 3-year-old Molder Action Network, which handles sales and service, would be folded into the main Van Dorn assembly plant in Strongsville, Ohio, before the end of the year. Van Dorn earlier had announced plans to close a screw factory in Fountain Inn, S.C., and relocate screw production to the main plant. The company also said it would sell a machining plant in Duncan, S.C.
More evidence emerged showing just how massive China is as a machinery market. This year, China probably will knock the United States off its longtime position as the No. 1 market for German machinery exports, according to VDMA, the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association. And Germany-based Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH and Austria-based Cincinnati Extrusion GmbH sold more than 400 extruders to China's Dalian Shide Plastic Industry Co. Ltd.
Harold Faig made an abrupt career change, as he took early retirement from Milacron on Sept. 30 after a 36-year career to become, on Oct. 1, the new president and chief executive officer of injection molder Tech Group Inc.
Husky founder Robert Schad said he plans to retire from the machinery maker in about three years. Schad made the announcement during a combination 75th birthday party and Husky 50-year anniversary celebration.
Kiefel Inc., the U.S. operation of Germany-based Kiefel Extrusion GmbH , named a new president: Bob Hawkins, former owner of recycling systems supplier Munchy Ltd.