Beleaguered by a dismal North American market, injection molding machinery makers agreed on two details during Plastics USA: The prolonged dip has turned roller coaster, and the most stable markets are medical, packaging and automotive.
On the other hand, general-purpose press suppliers will see their market continue to shrink in North America, officials said.
``It's not easy; there's no question. We have more supply than there is demand. To me, it's healthier than it has been,'' said Paul Caprio, executive vice president of Krauss-Maffei Corp.'s injection molding division.
Krauss-Maffei showcased a standard 165-ton press equipped with a bolt-on second injection unit that was making syringes. The Florence, Ky., firm is touting the bolt-on unit as a more cost-effective means to grow into two-shot molding.
``Because I think most molders are not buying vanilla machines anymore. The simple stuff will go to China. So if you're going to compete, you better do it in productivity. And doing it in productivity means now you're more conscientious of cycle times, removing labor, so you want more automation, and that means you have to have more advanced equipment to handle that,'' he said. ``The people that are buying are absolutely less than three years ago. But the ones that are buying are looking for better equipment.''
Toshiba Machine Co. America made sweeping management changes in 2003. Officials said during a Sept. 28 interview at Plastics USA that the changes were the result of a need to survive. In August, the firm expanded its North American sales and service departments with four employees.
``It's still a month-to-month roller coaster that we're on,'' said Michael Werner, technical sales manager of the plastics machinery division, in a Sept. 28 interview at the show. ``The confidence level is growing. A year ago, no one was purchasing. That wall is starting to come down.''
Capacity utilization rates among processors are easing back, other officials said. When those rates start reaching the 85 percentile range, processors are more willing to open their purse strings. The Federal Reserve Board put capacity utilization for plastics and rubber product manufacturing at about 83 percent in August.
``It's been a very up-and-down type of trend, which is bad for the heart, but it seems like now, things are starting to stabilize,'' said Anthony DiBattista, process engineering manager with Boy Machines Inc. of Exton, Pa.
``From August of last year to this year, there's a sizeable uptick in activity in injection,'' said Bob Strickley, marketing director of Cincinnati-based Milacron Inc. ``Now, is it the size of an uptick that everybody's out celebrating? No. Everybody still in this business has to work very hard to get an order and satisfy their customers. But year-to-year, it's up.''