While plastic auto part suppliers struggle along with the automotive industry, Japanese injection press and robot makers that serve that market also are reporting a drop in sales.
``2001 was the big downturn, then the market rebounded in 2005 ... sales surged, and everyone thought it would be the end of the low,'' said Michael Werner, technical sales manager with Toshiba Machine Co. America, the U.S. machinery arm of Tokyo-based Toshiba Corp. ``The market held in 2006, but this year seems to be down again.''
Automotive, which accounts for the largest percentage of Toshiba's business, is dragging down the plastics machinery division's performance, though other end markets show some promising prospects, Werner said.
``Medical, consumer products and the liquid silicone business are growing,'' he said at Plast-Ex 2007, held May 1-3 in Toronto.
Toshiba Machine, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., generates the majority of its sales in the U.S., and about 5-10 percent in Canada. As automakers and suppliers move south, Mexico - which currently represents 25 percent of North American sales - has seen healthy growth, Werner said. He said business comes from existing customers and new orders.
All-electric machines are on a steady incline too, about 4-6 percent annually, Werner said. Toshiba has stopped selling hydraulic presses under 250 tons in North America, and now about 40 percent of its sales come from electric and hybrid machines. The company also is gaining business in multimaterial and other special applications.
``We've been on a roller coaster in the past few years. We hope the market goes upwards,'' Werner said.
Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd.'s sales are not looking good, according to Toru Maruyama, manager of international sales for the Nagano, Japan-based injection molding machine maker. And the downturn hasn't come to an end, he said.
``Sales in the States are flat,'' Maruyama said. ``But in Canada, it's shrinking in terms of both unit and dollar.'' He noted that the injection press market has not yet recovered since Nissei attended Plast-Ex for the first time in 2004.
Faced by the challenge, ``We keep introducing new models to help molders cut cost and make better parts,'' Maruyama said.
Harmo Co. Ltd., also of Nagano, touted its smart programming and high-speed automation systems at the show. Ken Hamuri, part of the international marketing team, said he remains optimistic about the U.S. But, he added, ``Canada? There's not many auto suppliers.'' On the other hand, strong growth is coming from Mexico and Brazil, he noted. In fact, Mexico represents 30 percent of Harmo's sales in North America.
``We expect the market to boom,'' Maruyama added.
In addition to automotive, packaging and electronics are target sectors for Harmo.
Toronto-based G.M. Plastic Services Inc., the Candian representative for MHI Injection Molding Machinery Inc., displayed a Mitsubishi press at its booth. MHI manufactures presses in North America for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. of Tokyo.
Sales and service representative Glen Mortimer said he has been selling Mitsubishi machinery for six years. The press maker offers North American customers all-electric machines from 35-300 tons, hybrids from 390-3,900 tons, and hydraulic presses from 610-4,400 tons.
The Canadian market has been slow, he said. ``But when sales are down, service gets busy.''