In the world of thermoforming, expansions abound and companies are focused on joint ventures to get their products to the marketplace.
Machinery sales seem to be picking up, according to several equipment executives. And firms are finding creative ways to reach customers.
Brown Machine LLC of Beaverton, Mich., for the first time since 1985 did not bring machines to NPE.
``We're stepping out to the customers,'' said Jim Robbins, Brown's marketing vice president. The company has visited more than 500 customers just over the last year alone.
``We're knocking on some doors,'' he said. ``Our focus is trying to understand what the customer wants because that means it will translate into what the customer needs.''
As for machinery sales, Robbins said that Brown's first quarter this year was significantly better than the same period in 2005.
``What we continue to see in the business, we see a little more peaks and valleys,'' he said. ``April was a little softer but rebounded into May and June.''
The company announced several new products during NPE 2006 in Chicago, including new, servodriven LS-model horizontal trim presses for its T-series line. The machine is designed for high-speed applications. Officials said that a producer of lids for cold and hot drinks took delivery of the first unit in June.
The firm also introduced long-stroke LP- and LDP-model horizontal trim presses for deep-draw progressive trim applications.
Lyle Industries Inc. of Beaverton, Mich., and Gabler Thermoform GmbH & Co. KG of Lubeck, Germany, have stepped up what had been a marketing relationship. The firms are cross-training service people and will design machines together to marry U.S. and German technology.
New Lyle machinery includes a continuous, roll-fed thermoformer that features 40 percent greater mold area and 40 percent higher product output vs. comparable machines in Lyle's line, according to company literature.
Designated the 162FM, the machine accepts molds up to 62 by 62 inches, allowing for a dramatic increase in the throughput and efficiency, Lyle said. The 162FM is especially designed for heavy-duty, high-speed, high-production forming of most commonly thermoformed materials.
Lyle President Gary Sowden said his firm's sales will increase 20 percent this year, predominantly in polylactide- and PET-related applications.
``Those are the two things that are really driving that growth,'' he said. Sowden called the trend toward prepared and prepackaged food ``breakneck.''
``It's all convenience,'' he said. ``I think that's driving demand.''
Still, thermoforming machinery makers have challenges to their business. ``We've seen unprecedented price increases in steel and fuel [surcharges],'' Sowden said. ``We've suffered through customers' challenges.''
Those customers are looking for higher throughput, faster cycle changes and machines that are far more energy efficient.
With increased sales, Lyle is experiencing the biggest backlog it has had in years, Sowden said.
At NPE, Irwin Research and Development exhibited its Model 30 thermoformer producing a half-pint vented berry basket, with venting and trimming performed in one operation on the post-trim trim press. Officials said the Yakima, Wash., firm is nearing a continuous-sheet slicer for foam products, though it was not on display at the show. Irwin has agreed with a customer to ship it off for beta testing in August.
``I think we weathered and are weathering increasing costs,'' said Roger Underwood, sales and marketing director. ``We as consumers seem to keep spending.''
Underwood said the trend is continuing for retort packaging, and polypropylene is the largest growth material.
The company earlier this year added 36,000 square feet for assembly operations, giving it a total of 164,000 square feet at the Yakima site. Irwin has six buildings in Yakima with more than 250 employees. The assembly space was needed to increase efficiency, Underwood said.
``Some of the machines are getting larger and it takes more space to work around them,'' he said. Irwin is using up space in multiple development projects.
``With the expansion, it gets rid of a little bit of internal competition for space,'' he said.
Its partnership with OMV Italy and OMV USA, dubbed Irwin OMV Technologies, is being stepped up so the joint venture can make equipment for U.S., Canadian and Latin American markets.
``The drive behind this is to reduce effects of euro-dollar exchange rates and to reduce transportation costs,'' Underwood said. ``We will be doing machines in English units rather than metric units. It's going to take on a new face in terms of putting together turnkey extrusion thermoforming systems.''
Thermoforming Systems LLC of Union Gap, Wash., used the show to introduce its wholly owned subsidiary Sunwell Global Ltd. of Taiwan, marketing its extrusion products and EPS molding products to the U.S. market.
``We've been marketing our products in other areas in the world,'' said Dave Irwin, vice president of sales and marketing. ``NPE was an excellent tool for us to introduce Sunwell to the Americas.''
His firm recently moved into a consolidated plant in Union Gap, merging three plants into one.
``We were in three different locations in the community,'' he said. ``We just got everything in one location and our efficiencies are going to increase because of that, primarily.''
Officials showcased the TSL Loflex 5.0 thermoforming machine and trim press, along with Sunwell's 120- by 150-millimeter tandem foam extruder. In addition, officials showed a take-off roll stack used on a solid-sheet extrusion line for cooling and conditioning the sheet.
Monark Equipment Technologies Co. of Auburn, Mich., featured cut-sheet and roll-fed thermoforming configurations, in- cluding its R3E cut sheet model with a three-station rotary machine with load/unload, main oven heat and form stations. Cut-sheet thermoforming equipment series include the R4E, R6ETS, S, SDF and S2. Roll-fed configurations are available in the F series with form station only, or the FT series, with a roll-fed high-speed machine with a form and steel rule trim station.