``We are very busy,'' said Friedrich Kanz, president of Arburg Inc. in Newington, Conn. ``We are selling a lot of well-equipped machines, whether it's hydraulic machines or electric machines. We also are having a pretty high share of special applications, especially liquid silicone. That is definitely a very strong area for Arburg,'' he said.
Kanz said the overall U.S. market will probably drop 15 percent. He said a 3,000-press year now will be considered a normal year. A good year would be 3,500.
He called the U.S. plastics industry a ``dramatically changing environment.'' Easy molding jobs have moved offshore, many to China. Surviving companies have to step up and invest in new machinery and automation. Arburg is selling presses for multicomponent molding.
But Kanz said there is still a good market for more-standard hydraulic machines.
Like other European machinery companies, Lossburg, Germany-based Arburg GmbH + Co. KG has felt the pain of the record weak dollar vs. the strong euro. ``We manage the difficult situation as good as we can,'' Kanz said.
Boy-brand presses are made in Fernthal, Germany. Koch said the currency imbalance ``puts a great deal of pressure on prices and margins.'' Still, he said Boy has managed to boost its U.S. market share, especially through sales in packaging and medical, both thermoplastic and liquid silicone rubber. ``The medical industry has been very strong for us,'' he said.
Negri Bossi sold about 50 injection presses this year, up from 38 in 2006, from its locations in the United States and Canada, said Bill Duff, national sales manager of Negri Bossi USA Inc. in New Castle, Del.
``We're on a steady increase, machinerywise. And some of our machines are starting to move into the larger-tonnage range,'' he said. Negri Bossi sold a press with 3,000 tons of clamping force to Mathson Industries Inc., which is opening a plant in Hodges, S.C., to mold parts for BMW AG's U.S. assembly plant nearby.
``We're making good penetration into the automotive sector. We're also trying to penetrate medical, which is always a fairly strong market in the United States,'' Duff said at the K show.
Battenfeld of America Inc. in South Elgin, Ill., hired Michael Wecker as its new chief executive officer. Wecker had worked at Husky for 17 years in the Dallas region. He said custom molders are buying machines with more options and automation than ever before.
``I think it's the next level up of technical molding, that the American molder has to get into to stay in business and be competitive,'' he said. Battenfeld's best markets are medical and telecommunications.
Wecker said German parent Battenfeld Kunststoffmaschinen GmbH is refocusing on its target customers. ``You can't be a supplier to everybody anymore,'' he said.
Harry Wowchuck, vice president and general manager of HPM, said the press maker in Mount Gilead, Ohio, is seeing a lot of activity. ``Whether it turns into orders, I don't know,'' he said.
There are too many good used larger-tonnage machines around. ``We have not worked off the used machine market that would promote new-machine sales. Until that inventory of used machines drops, there's not going to be robust new machine market,'' Wowchuck said.
Glenn Frohring plans to compete directly with all that used machinery by urging companies instead to buy new, low-priced Haitian presses from China.
``There is a definite need for replacing older iron when the maintenance costs are high to keep the machine running. Our position is, we're the low-cost player and we'll do the job,'' said Frohring, vice president of sales and marketing at Absolute Haitian Corp. in Worcester, Mass.
Absolute Haitian has been busy signing up sales representatives this year. Frohring said the company now has the entire country covered. ``We've got steady growth in a down market,'' he said.
Dan Preston, national sales manager of Fortune International Inc., thinks that, if the dollar continues to weaken, that could bring more molding work to the United States. ``I think the multinational companies are going to look at investing in U.S. manufacturing,'' he said.
Preston said Fortune, in Somerset, N.J., had an up-and-down year.
``We started out the year very good, up until July, and once July hit, it seemed like everything just came to a dead spot,'' he said. ``But as I speak with the customers, they tell me that they're doing an exceedingly large amount of bidding. There seems to be work out there, it's just not being released yet.''
All-electric sales jolt
All-electric presses are closing in on 50 percent of the U.S. market, measured in units. People who sell Japanese injection presses are taking advantage of the trend.
``It's kept up the demand for our equipment. We're seeing people replacing some older hydraulic machines with new all-electric machines,'' said Jeff Hicks, vice president of technical sales at Sumitomo Plastics Machinery LLC in Norcross, Ga.
Sumitomo counts medical molders and processors that serve Japanese transplant automakers as strong customers. ``We're on pace to be probably equal to last year, or maybe slightly ahead,'' Hicks said. ``With the market declining, we think that's a pretty good thing.''
All-electrics account for 75 percent of Toyo sales, said Ronald Zara, national accounts manager at Maruka USA Inc. in Rockaway, N.J. The company is pitching its sixth-generation, all-electric model, called the Si-IV. ``We feel that we are probably going to gain, even though the industry's going down, because of our emphasis on electric technology,'' he said.
Peter Gardner said selling all-electric Niigata presses opens the door to molding plants, as they switch to buying all-electrics. ``We've gained a lot of new customers that way,'' said Gardner, vice president and general manager of Niigata machines for DJK-Global Ltd. in Itasca, Ill. Gardner predicts steady business for Niigata in 2008: ``We're just trying to win new customers and take away market share.''
A few machinery officials have U.S. customers that have won work back from China. MHI's Gipson said Mitsubishi has picked up some business as a result.
``Not that the luster is gone with China, but with all the toy scares and the pet food scares that we experienced this year, some of this has gone back to the States,'' he said.