In sheet extrusion, Welex Inc. President Frank Nissel said the days appear to be over when customers just talked, but held off from purchasing machines.
``They don't seem to be holding back anymore, and I'm surprised with the oil prices and resin prices going up,'' Nissel said. ``Now they're pulling the trigger.''
Nissel said some larger sheet extruders think costly resin will cull out pesky competitors. ``The solid people say `that's great, that's going to shake out the little guys who give us a bad time,' '' he said.
Welex, of Blue Bell, Pa., is selling machines into food packaging and appliances. The company also built a couple of 12-foot-wide lines to run high density polyethylene sheet for industrial parts.
Nissel said Welex recently sold its 250th PET sheet line.
HPM in Mount Gilead, Ohio, did well in 2004, but packaging was not the reason. Gerry Sposato, director of sales and marketing, said HPM sold acrylic and PE sheet lines to custom applications, including turning recycled scrap into new products.
``We're seeing a lot of pent-up demand for new machinery. We're doing a lot of custom lines,'' Sposato said.
HPM is a division of Taylor's Industrial Services LLC.
U.S. manufacturers claim they lost $300 million to underpriced retail bags from China, Malaysia and Thailand, causing them to close plants and lay off workers. They cried foul, and in July, the U.S. International Trade Commission agreed that those countries indeed were dumping bags in the U.S. market. The government levied punitive tariffs.
The anti-dumping tariffs, coupled with rising resin prices in Asia, ``took away a huge amount of bags that were imported,'' said David Nunes, president of Hosokawa Alpine American. ``The net effect of that is it just dried the imports up and forced the U.S. companies to ramp up.''
The bag-line business has helped Hosokawa Alpine American of Natick, Mass. The company had transitioned from commodity films into higher-end barrier films and breathable films, but continued to be strong in commodity films like the bags, Nunes said.
Nunes is smiling, but not too broadly. Even with the higher volumes, brutal machinery pricing makes it hard to turn a profit, he said. And he worries that the big resin price jumps will hurt his customers. ``It has a huge impact, absolutely. If they're not able to pass those increases along, they're not going make money.''
Kiefel Inc. in Wrentham, Mass., is the U.S. headquarters of Kiefel Extrusion GmbH, a German company known for machinery to make T-shirt bags. The company has been pushing its higher-end multilayer barrier film technology with the Kirion line of blown film equipment.
Kiefel Inc. President Bob Hawkins said T-shirt bags and trash bags are mature markets in the United States. The tariffs are enabling film makers to make money on those products again. ``The companies are looking to see where they can best make their margins, and if you're staying in the can liners and T-shirt bags, you realize you need to invest in new technology,'' Hawkins said.
The Asia tariffs have not directly benefited Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp. in Lincoln, R.I., according to Andrew Wheeler, vice president of sales. ``Most of our customers are going toward high-end laminating films, and also bag films for high-quality retail,'' he said. ``But a lot of the finished bags, as I understand it, that came in from China were a little bit on the lower end.''
Wheeler is talking about things like eight-color bags made on a W&H printing press.
``Last year was a record year for us in extrusion and in printing, and that was in a very down market,'' Wheeler said ``And this year has also been a strong sales year.''
W&H's parent company is German, and the strong euro makes its imported machinery more expensive in the United States. ``The pricing pressure is the most difficult issue confronting us. Not technology, not whether we have the right machine for the marketplace,'' Wheeler said.
Brampton, Ontario-based Brampton Engineering Inc. will enjoy a 35 percent sales increase this year, which follows a strong 2003, according to Bud Smith, president and CEO. The company sells blown film lines that can make up to 10-layer film for food packaging.
Smith is watching U.S. packaging investment closely. ``It really depends on the political climate, and the investment climate that our customers have,'' he said. ``We're now seeing some of the bigger players, who've been on the sidelines for awhile, quoting and putting in new systems.''
Reifenhauser Inc. of Ipswich, Mass., has sold several sheet lines for food packaging in the past 12 months, said John Wise, general manager of sales and marketing. ``The film side of the business has been consistent ... but it continues to be very competitive.''
Macro Engineering and Technology Inc. has hired people at its plant this year in Mississauga, Ontario, said President Mirek Planeta. The company makes blown and cast film equipment for multilayer food packaging.
Planeta said business was steady the last three or four years. ``But this year it just went berserk,'' he said. What about 2005? In November, Macro already was booked through the end of August - 10 months ahead.
Macchi North America, part of Macchi srl of Italy, opened four years ago. ``Still a lot of North Americans don't know us,'' said sales manager Paul Conley. ``But we had a good year. We sold six multilayer lines into the U.S. and Canada. For us, it's a big step.''
Macchi machines can blow up to nine-layer film, but Conley said the company's goals are more modest in North America: Get the attention of film makers turning out monolayer, three-layer and five-layer film.
Conley expects a strong 2005. ``A lot of machine sales have been put off and put off, and you can only do that for so long,'' he said.
This year has been ``excellent'' for Black Clawson Converting Machinery LLC, according to President Mark Panozzo. ``I would characterize it as a little bit of pent-up demand after a slow cycle,'' he said.
Black Clawson, in Fulton, N.Y., makes cast film and extrusion coating machinery.
Panozzo is looking forward to 2005. ``We're seeing good stability and modest growth. One of the things we like to see is, North America is spending some money,'' he said.