Up and down all year
At MHI Injection Molding Machinery, ``it's been up and down all year,'' said Tom Geddes, general manager of engineering. ``We're seeing some good orders, but it's all going into next year. This year it's been a little bit down for us toward the end.''
MHI in Bensenville, Ill., sells Mitsubishi presses.
Geddes echoed other executives when he said customers are cautious.
``There are some people trying to squeeze as much as they can, rather than buying new machines,'' he said.
Robert Columbus agreed. ``They are complaining about the age of their equipment, but they're still reluctant to replace them,'' said Columbus, head of marketing and regional sales manager at JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. in Elk Grove Village, Ill. ``They're just looking very carefully as far as how they'll spend their money.''
Bill Duff, national sales manager of Negri Bossi USA Inc. of Newark, Del., also sees plenty of old equipment. ``There's a lot of machines out there that need to be replaced,'' he said.
Negri Bossi booked orders for 11 machines as a result of NPE 2006, and sold all of its machines off the show floor, Duff said.
Duff said the company's large-tonnage business is solid, but sales have been mostly to customers outside of automotive.
``We've seen seven or eight customers that have requested proposals for next year's budget, for machines above 1,000 tons,'' he said.
Sumitomo Plastics Machinery LLC also had a good NPE, taking orders for about 10 machines at the show.
``We haven't done that in a long time,'' said Jeff Hicks, vice president of technical sales at the company in Norcross, Ga.
Hicks said medical is a hot market for Sumitomo's all-electric presses. ``And electronics is starting to pick up a little bit,'' he said.
``We're probably going to book about 10 percent more orders this year than we did last year,'' Hicks said.
Columbus, at JSW, said all-electrics have a bright future. ``It's a rare situation that, once a customer buys electrics, they revert back to buying a hydraulic machine,'' he said.
JSW's Japanese parent company, Japan Steel Works Ltd., built an all-electric press with 2,750 tons of clamping force, for delivery in early 2007 to a Japanese transplant operating in Mexico.
Miniature Plastic Molding, which bought the Mini-Jector vertical-press business, makes small machines for laboratories, overmolding and short-run work. The Solon, Ohio, company developed a CE machine this year, to export to Europe, according to President Bill Frissell.
``I think our future is brighter than general machines in the industry,'' he said.
``We are doing OK. We're still keeping good numbers of market share, but the market is kind of very soft right now,'' said Kazz Takamura, vice president and general manager of Toshiba Machine Co. America in Elk Grove Village, Ill. ``Our customer base is looking at all specialized machines to compete against molding work for overseas.''
Absolute Haitian Corp. of Worcester, Mass., handles U.S. and Canadian sales of Haitian injection presses from China. Glenn Frohring, vice president of sales and marketing, said the company's low-price presses should do well in today's profit-squeezed environment.
``The Haitian appeals to the guys that own the plant and are spending the money,'' he said. ``We're seeing a shift toward buyers in the North American market only buying what they need, not what they would like to have. It's `what do we need to get the job done?' ''
Several machinery executives said the ``pent-up demand'' statement by Milacron leader Ron Brown is too aggressive. It implies a dam ready to burst with a surge of machinery buying.
``I don't think it means the same thing anymore,'' said Robert Koch, president of Boy Machines Inc.
``There are a lot of old machines out there, and it's a challenge because Boy builds the machines to last,'' Koch said. ``Our challenge is to show people there's a favorable return on investment in replacing the older machines.''
Boy is based in Exton, Pa.
Dan Preston at Fortune International Inc. in Somerset, N.J., thinks pent-up demand requires a new definition.
``I think the term could better be described as uncertainty in decisions. There's so much uncertainty that people won't make a decision,'' he said. ``If the demand is there, they still aren't sure if it's going to be there tomorrow. It's more uncertainty than there is demand.''
People who sell capital equipment have a bit of psychologist in them, especially when it comes to China and U.S. manufacturing.
``We're living in an economy of brutal change,'' Preston said. ``For so many years, we've been in control of our own destiny. And it seems that this control has been shifted to another part of the world, and, where we were a great producing nation, now we're just a consuming nation.''