Chinese firms continued their surge in the ranks of NPE exhibitors, with almost 200 firms registering for booths this year, a 70 percent jump from the last show and, according to the official statistics, giving China more exhibitors than any other foreign country.
Those numbers may overstate the Chinese impact in that some foreign firms, such as the Japanese machinery makers, register through their American subsidiaries. And Chinese firms tend to take cheaper, modest booths at the back of the halls, without the splash and marketing pizzazz of the more established firms.
Nonetheless, this year's show does continue the strong overseas push by Chinese firms at NPE.
Here are the numbers: At the last NPE, in 2006, 115 firms came from China and Hong Kong, while only 27 made the trip for NPE 2003, according to show organizers. This year, 194 firms from mainland China and three from Hong Kong registered to exhibit.
Interviews with some Chinese exhibitors at the show indicated they wanted to reinforce their brands and thought they might find opportunities for their lower-priced products in a recession and an increasingly price-conscious American market.
Many companies may think this is not a good time to go to America, but, on the other hand, in a weak time, this is a very good opportunity to catch the customer, said Zhang Deyu, the overseas marketing manager for compounder Shandong Dawn Group Co. Ltd. Before, a customer would only buy from a famous brand, but they will look at lower cost now.
Extruder maker Nanjing Giant Machinery Co. Ltd. also thinks that American customers are more receptive to lower-priced Chinese equipment.
James Morriston, a U.S.-based sales agent for the Nanjing, China-based firm, said some customers are looking at lower-priced imports. But he also said he has seen customers say no to his machines, if they need the equipment for a core market and consider the Chinese equipment a risk, even if the China price is half that of a more established Western brand.
Now that things are down, everybody is very price conscious, Morriston said.
Kingfa Science and Technology Co. Ltd., China's largest compounder and one of the world's largest, said NPE is an international show and they wanted to promote the company.
Plus, said Willis Guan, deputy president of global sales and marketing, the firm had to commit to NPE two years ago, when the economy looked much better.
Even though the overall numbers were still up, there were some empty booths of last-minute no-show Chinese firms, deterred by the economy, the cost of NPE hotel rooms and travel, and, in some cases, worry over the H1N1 swine flu virus, which has been grabbing daily headlines in papers in Asia for several weeks.
We do not want our employees to take [a] risk for exhibiting at NPE during the period of serious H1N1 flu, said an executive with one large Chinese equipment maker that cancelled its plans to exhibit, in an e-mail to Plastics News. The executive requested anonymity.
Still, some Chinese firms were there in force.
China's largest injection press maker, Ningbo Haitian Plastic Machinery Group, had a sizable exhibit with its American agent Absolute Haitian Corp.
In an unusual move for NPE, the company had sticker prices of the three injection presses on display. One company staffer said the firm wanted to emphasize its position as the low-cost leader.
Another Haitian manager, Executive Vice President Helmar Franz, said the company believes it is important to maintain a strong presence.
Looking long term, it is still very important for us to be here, he said. [The American market] won't be the same as before the crisis, but it will be a good market.
NPE2009 was held June 22-26 in Chicago.