Capital spending is increasing slowly but surely, as the U.S. plastics machinery industry began in 2004 to dig itself out of the hole it crawled into from 2000-03.
What had been ``lots of interest'' and ``request for quotes'' turned into some actual sales for many makers of injection presses, extruders and blow molding machines this year.
K 2004 turned Dusseldorf into Germany's plastics city on the Rhine for eight days in October. Machines were sold - at a frenzied pace at some of the big makers of injection presses - and the general mood was upbeat.
At K, China got lots of attention. In a duel of twin-screw compounding extruders, Coperion Group and Century Inc. showed machines made in China. Several injection press makers actively are selling - or even building - machines there right now.
For the U.S. market for plastics machinery, China is still the great unknown. Will U.S. customers lap up the inexpensive machines? How will that affect sales of machines built in the United States and Europe?
Rising costs for steel and resin were the other macro stories of 2004 - and once again, China's voracious industrial appetite drove much of the price hikes, if you throw in terrorism threats to crude oil and global growth on the resin side.
If higher steel prices nibbled at the recovering profitability of machinery makers, skyrocketing resin bills threaten to cream margins at their customers, the plastics processors.
Prices for most major commodity resins jumped 20-40 percent in 2004.
To some extent, skyrocketing resin can encourage processors to take a look at new, more-efficient machinery. But machinery manufacturers worry that, if resin stays high or moves even higher well into 2005, it could strangle the ability of lean-and-mean U.S. processors to spend money.
In politics and economics, the presidential election managed to end without any major voting controversy except long lines.
Meanwhile, interest rates inched up throughout the year.
So 2004 was certainly better than the last several years. Here's a look back:
Coperion Group, which makes Werner & Pfleiderer compounding extruders, announced an agreement with Chinese extruder maker Nanjiing Keya Industries to sell Keya machines outside of China. Coperion ended up buying a majority stake.
Farrel Corp., the manufacturer of extruders and mixers, asked to have its stock trading suspended on the over-the-counter Bulletin Board and moved to deregister the stock. Later, in June, Alberto Shaio was promoted to president and chief executive officer, replacing longtime top executive Rolf Liebergesell.
Under a deal announced in January, Heinrich Weiss, longtime chairman of SMS AG, and his family became the sole owners of SMS AG, after German conglomerate MAN AG sold them its majority stake. SMS - which makes Battenfeld injection presses, American Maplan and Cincinnati Extrusion brand extruders, Battenfeld Gloucester film equipment, and steel mill equipment - was transformed from a public company to a private one. The deal ended a 31-year joint ownership arrangement by the Weiss family and MAN. Wilhelm SchrÃ¶der, who left the top post at Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH in 2002, resurfaced to lead SMS Plastics Technologies.
A management group bought DT Converting Technologies, including Sencorp and Armac thermoforming machines, from the financially ailing DT Industries Inc.
The 59-year old Van Dorn name vanished, as officials of Demag Plastics Group moved to create a unified global line of injection molding machines. Behind the scenes, executives won government assistance to ensure that Van Dorn's ... er ... DPG's U.S. factory remained in Strongsville, Ohio, after the company heard offers from South Carolina.
Merritt Davis Corp. laid off most of its production people as it moved to restructure its debt. The company reopened after changing its name to Merritt Extruder Corp.
Several hundred buyers vied for 41 used Milacron injection presses and other equipment during an auction at the closed Sunbeam Products Inc. factory in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Going right down to the deadline, Milacron Inc. successfully refinanced the large debt that was hanging over the firm, thanks to a $100 million investment from Mizuho International plc, a large Japanese bank, and Swiss natural resources giant Glencore Finance AG. Shareholders gave their approval in June. Milacron moved quickly to bring back the ``Cincinnati Milacron'' name for its injection molding machines and for twin-screw extruders made at its U.S. plant in Batavia, Ohio.
Century Inc. shipped its first 12-screw extruder, dubbed a ring extruder, to an undisclosed U.S. customer.
Milacron announced it would begin building injection presses in China by year's end, through a joint venture with automotive plastics molder Jiangnan Mould & Plastic Technology Co. Ltd. in Jiangyin.
SIG Holding Ltd. said it was selling its extrusion blow molding machinery businesses, Kautex and Blowtec, to Adcuram Beteiligungs AG. Adcuram did buy Kautex, but the deal for Blowtec fell apart. Kautex was renamed Kautex Maschinenbau GmbH.
Denes Hunkar, known as an expert in process controls for the plastics industry and a pioneer in computer-integrated manufacturing, died April 28. The Hunkar Laboratories founder was 67.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. reported U.S. machinery shipments slipped in 2003 - a disappointment for equipment executives hoping for growth after a lousy 2001 and 2002.
The first shot was fired in Vienna, Austria, in what could be called the great Cincinnati vs. Cincinnati extruder war. In a pre-K news conference, officials of Cincinnati Extrusion GmbH announced they will pursue business in the United States beginning in January. That's when a noncompete agreement expires with Milacron Inc. - also allowing that Cincinnati firm to sell its extruders around the world.
Engel Holding GmbH started a high-tech assembly line to build presses at its headquarters plant in Schwertberg, Austria - complete with automated moving carts to carry the machines.
Another big auction took place, as more than 500 bidders walked through the landmark Rubbermaid Home Products plant that shut down in Wooster, Ohio. Sold: 30 injection presses that used to run at Rubbermaid and another 29 late-model Van Dorns brought in for the auction.
German injection press maker Arburg GmbH + Co. KG opened a subsidiary in Shanghai, China.
Robert Wood, Crompton Corp.'s president, chairman and CEO, dropped a bombshell in a second-quarter conference call to analysts by saying Davis-Standard Corp.'s plastics machinery business ``doesn't fit long-term'' with Crompton. ``I would be very surprised if we had this business for another 18 or 24 months,'' he said.
Battenfeld of America Inc. moved to South Elgin, Ill., exiting West Warwick, R.I., the press maker's U.S. home for some 20 years.
Chinese injection press maker Haitian Machinery Co. Ltd. said it opened a 29,000-square-foot warehouse and demonstration facility in Itasca, Ill.
Lori Anderson, the trade, economic and policy issues officer of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. - and a driving force behind SPI's Committee on Equipment Statistics - left the plastics trade group to become head of the International Sign Association.
German makers of plastics and rubber machinery sold more equipment to China than to the United States, as China became the No. 1 export market, according to VDMA, the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, based in Frankfurt.
Dignitaries gathered in Williamston, Mich., to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bekum America Corp., the U.S. arm of Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH.
Uniloy Milacron, which makes blow molding machines, opened a 75,000-square-foot technical service center in Tecumseh, Mich.
Two weeks before K 2004 started, SMS Plastics Technology announced that major components of the new version of its Battenfeld all-electric press would be made by a competitor, Ferromatik Milacron Maschinenbau GmbH.
In a bid to cut costs, Groupe Sidel said it will reduce its global workforce by 15 percent, or about 570 jobs. The French equipment maker will focus on its core businesses of blow molding and filling equipment for PET bottles.
K 2004, the world's largest plastics trade show, drew 230,000 trade visitors from more than 100 countries to Dusseldorf, Germany, from Oct. 20-27. The show is held every three years.
At K, extruder maker Century Inc. announced a deal with a Chinese maker of twin-screw compounding extruders, Nanjing Ruiya Polymer Processing Equipment Co. Ltd. Ruiya gets access to Century technology. Century will sell and service extruders from China.