Wilhelm SchrÃ¶der, the new chief of SMS Plastics Technology, took a head-on approach to the company's poor financial performance, during a pre-K 2004 news conference in Vienna.
SchrÃ¶der said he agreed with comments by SMS owner Heinrich Weiss that the machinery maker needs a ``radical restructuring'' - but SchrÃ¶der said not to expect ``one big bang.''
SchrÃ¶der in January became managing director of SMS Plastics Technology, which makes Battenfeld injection presses, American Maplan and Cincinnati extruders and Battenfeld Gloucester film equipment. SMS held a news conference in Vienna in May to preview technology it planned to show at the K 2004 show, Oct. 20-27 in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Kicking off the event, SchrÃ¶der dug right into SMS Plastics Technology's 2003 financial performance. He used words like ``unsatisfactory'' and ``weaknesses.'' And, in his first address to trade journalists, he referred directly to comments made back in March by Weiss, chairman of parent SMS AG. Weiss had reported that SMS, which also makes equipment for steel plants and forging mills, had lost 19 million euros ($21.5 million) companywide because of the ``exceptionally poor performance'' of its plastics machinery.
``His criticism was justified,'' SchrÃ¶der said. ``The profit performance of SMS Plastics Technology was indeed very unsatisfactory in the last fiscal year. From my point of view, many of the problems are homemade, and therefore solutions should be within reach. There are weaknesses such as lack of clearly defined strategy in some areas, a long-standing philosophy on growth and not on profit performance, and too-complex product and company structures, to name just a few.''
SMS Plastics Technology of Meinzerhagen, Germany, generated 2003 sales of 414 million euros ($469 million), and orders of 438 million euros ($496 million). Battenfeld injection molding suffered a sharp drop in sales, but an improving order book. Extrusion reported a sales increase but a decline in orders.
``These are totally unsatisfactory figures, there's no use denying it,'' SchrÃ¶der said.
He said the slow global economy in 2003 reflected the sales decline, but added that SMS is ``cautiously optimistic'' in its outlook for 2004.
So what about that ``radical restructuring?'' In his speech, SchrÃ¶der said the company would combine some administrative functions of the injection press plants in Meinerzhagen and Kottingbrunn into a central management team. All companywide functions, such as controlling and purchasing, will be centralized.
SMS Plastics Technology also is creating four business units with clearly defined management roles and, most important, the responsibility for turning a profit.
When a reporter asked SchrÃ¶der what radical restructuring means, he said the company is analyzing many of its activities. ``But there is not one `big bang,''' he said. ``If you take that all together - manufacturing, cost-reduction and so on - there are a lot of things to do, and it will be radical at the end of the day.''
SchrÃ¶der added that the challenges are offset by several strengths, including the company's well-established brands, a global presence and a motivated work force. Facing the machinery slowdown, the company has reduced its employment by 13 percent since 2000, to 2,326 last year. SchrÃ¶der said the company now will hold employment steady.
In K show news:
* The European audience will see Battenfeld GmbH's IMPmore process to make polycarbonate car windows using an injection-compression molding technology. Battenfeld debuted IMPmore at the NPE 2003 show in Chicago.
IMPmore stands for in-mold pressing, a way to make windows with low molded-in stress, to avoid distortion. Battenfeld will use a two-platen HM press, with telescoping tie bars, to mold the windows - 1 square meter of plastic glazing, which the company says is twice as big as what has been possible so far.
* Battenfeld also will show two new small sizes of the HM, with clamping forces of 230 and 300 tons. At K, the 230-ton press will demonstrate multicomponent molding by turning out body halves for a battery-powered screwdriver.
* In micromolding, the company will mold a tiny vascular clamp that reabsorbs into the body, on a Microsystem 50 press. Battenfeld said it is producing 15-25 Microsystem machines a year. The press was introduced at the 1998 K show.
* Battenfeld announced that it has reduced production costs for its all-electric press, the EM, although the firm declined to detail specific price changes. At K 2004, an EM machine will mold medical pipette tips on a 32-cavity mold.
* Vienna-based Cincinnati Extrusion GmbH announced it will move into the U.S. market in 2005. In technology news, the company at K will unveil its Konos conical twin-screw extruder line, billed as a flexible, compact and cost-efficient machine. Applications include PVC pipe and profiles, materials sensitive to shear stress, applications that have high stock pressure and products with natural-fiber content. Konos, which replaces the Titan line of conicals, can extrude 44-660 pounds of profiles an hour, and 110-1,110 pounds of pipe.
* Cincinnati Extrusion also will extrude wood/plastic composite profiles on a Fiberex line at K 2004. Now the machine is faster, plus it can do direct processing of the wood flour, right into the extruder by using a gravimetric metering system for up to four components. Equipped with a conical Fiberex T 58 twin-screw extruder, the line at K will turn out 265 pounds an hour.
* A Proton 60 G-Torq extruder will show off a new patent-pending torque motor design. Instead of mounting the motor on line with the screw, Cincinnati Extrusion mounts the motor at a 90-degree angle. That means the extruder is shorter, saving space and reducing cost. ``You don't need the big bearings you need when you have the torque motor in the axis of the screw,'' said Walter HÃ¤der, managing director. Bearings for an in-line motor are more expensive.
* Cincinnati Extrusion also will launch two new models of its Alpha single-screw extruder, plus a line of standardized downstream equipment for the Alpha. The Alpha 45-28F and Alpha 60-28F come with fine-grooved feed zones, so they are suited to extruding soft materials such as thermoplastic elastomers. Alpha 45-28G and the 60-28G have coarse-grooved feed zones, so they can run polypropylene profiles and tubes with or without fillers. In Dusseldorf, watch for the ``Alpha tower'' display.
Cincinnati Extrusion said it has sold more than 200 Alpha's since rolling out the extruder at K 2001.
Alpha Tubeline and Profline downstream equipment includes die heads, cooling tanks, hauloffs and cutters.
* Cincinnati Extrusion also added two new parallel twin-screw extruders to its Argos line of window profile machines: Argos 72 EA, which turns out 176-484 pounds an hour, and Argos 93 EA, which extrudes 308-748 pounds an hour. The firm also will demonstrate a manufacturing system to make drip-tape for agricultural irrigation, which inserts a specially embossed polyethylene tape into pipes.
In other extrusion news from SMS Plastics Technology:
* The Battenfeld Chen extruder joint venture in Shunde, China, is building a new assembly hall. The firm built about 35 extrusion lines last year. Battenfeld Chen has added blown film lines to its product range of pipe and profile extruders.
* American Maplan Corp. of McPherson, Kan., was hit hard by the North American recession from 2000-03, but business has rebounded in 2004. Maplan has benefited from the wood-flour decking boom and large-diameter PE pipe.
* Battenfeld Extrusionstechnik GmbH of Ban Oeyhausen, Germany, also faces a brighter year following a restructuring. Maplan and Battenfeld Extrusionstechnik have jointly developed a conical twin-screw extruder for PVC. After doing well with the first model, the sister companies have launched the complete BEX series, by adding a small coextruder and a high-output model.
* At K, Battenfeld will introduce the winBEX, for window profiles - with a complete downstream package.
* Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc., the film equipment maker in Gloucester, Mass., reported growing markets for multilayer barrier films for food and meat, reclosable ``zipper'' bags, shrink wrap for juice drinks. Brian Marvelley, president and chief executive officer, also reported on growth of stretch hoods: a blown film tube is stretched and lowered over a product on a pallet, then allowed to snap back.
At K 2004, the firm will show its new nine-layer die, the Optiflow LP. It also will show its new Machine Direction Orienter, which is a series of rolls that pre-heat, draw and anneal the film, stretching it out to reduce the gauge, while increasing its length. The MDO can be run in-line with blown film production, or off-line.
Marvelley also reported that Battenfeld Gloucester and Battenfeld Extrusionstechnik have sold more than 14 of its TSL thermoforming sheet lines.