Time is running out for fully hydraulic injection molding machines in fast-cycle, high-volume packaging production, according to Netstal President and CEO Bernhard Merki.
The company is likely to begin phasing out its Synergy range of fully hydraulic, high-performance molding machines, first introduced in 1996 and the staple of its machine range ever since.
The transition probably will begin within the next three years, as the performance and clamping-force range of its newer electric and electric-hybrid models develops, Merki said at the company's headquarters in NÃ¤fels, Switzerland, at a June 9 pre-K show press conference.
Synergy will be phased out in maybe two or 21/2 years when we have really filled the gap with the new products we have put in place, he said.
The final decision to eliminate the Synergy machines from the company's range will be made on economic grounds, said Merki. Not on the simple economics of its own machine manufacturing, but the much more important economics of cost of plastics part production to the customer.
It is clear to say that the future of the small injection molding machines will not be in hydraulic-driven machines. You can see now that up to 200 [metric] tons we are going to have just all-electric or hybrid solutions because energy is so much an issue. The consumption of energy with electric solutions is so much lower, he said.
Our machines are never cheaper than our competitors. We have to give our customers real hard figures to convince them that at the end of the day they will have an economic benefit from choosing Netstal.
Merki said Netstal will continue to provide full support and service for all Synergy machine users.
The strides the company is making with its electric technology will be demonstrated at the K show in Dusseldorf, Germany, in the autumn, where it will launch new 220- and 280-metric-ton versions of its Elion machine line.
The Elion machines are designed on an all-electric platform. These two new models use electrically driven clamping units delivering dry cycle times of 1.3 and 1.4 seconds, respectively, together with a hybrid-electric injection system. Full-electric injection is not yet able to deliver the injection speeds required but will be integrated in the future.
The 220-metric-ton Elion machine is capable of molding a lightweight closure on a 64-cavity mold on a cycle time of 2.1 seconds, according to the company. This will be demonstrated at K.
Netstal also will preview a new control system at the Dusseldorf fair. The Axos system uses a new patented control panel that combines a full-color-display panel with an overlay membrane touch surface to give a fully customizable yet tactile surface.
The system also parts company with its previous control system in allowing the user absolute programming freedom traditional control technology uses fixed sequences that sometimes limit cycle optimization.
The system ultimately will replace the current DSP system on all Elion and Evos machines, with the first Axos-equipped machines introduced in the first quarter of 2011. The Axos control system will not be available on the Synergy platform.
As a member of KraussMaffei Group, Netstal has not published individual annual sales figures since 2006, and is not required to do so under Swiss law. But KM Group reports total annual sales of about 742 million euros ($1 billion).
Declining to give specific figures on the firm's performance during the financial crisis, Merki said he believes Netstal's focus on packaging and medical markets meant it was less impacted than many of its competitors in the injection machinery sector.
Even so, he said overall sales for the year ended Sept. 30 were down by around 20 percent from the 2008 period, and the workforce was cut by about 80, to 665 people worldwide. Netstal now accounts for around 17 percent of the total number of people employed by KM worldwide.
In the PET sector, however, where the company is the No. 2 supplier of preform systems behind market leader Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., Merki said the company's sales have grown through the recession and now make up 26 percent of its total sales worldwide.
In contrast, he said the optical-disc market, which in 2000 accounted for 40 percent of its sales and close to 70 percent of machine shipments, is now effectively dead.
This market segment has gone it is no longer part of our story. But we have compensated for the downturn in optical-disc machines with our electrical machine range. We entered this business segment at the right time, said Merki.
While optical-disc investments may be a thing of the past for Netstal, the DiscJet machine story is not quite at an end. Merki said the specially developed optical-disc machine has found new applications in manufacturing of optical lenses and it now has around 150 machines running worldwide in such niche production.
Based on performance during the first eight months of this financial year incoming orders are up by 25 percent on the 2009 period, and Merki predicts the company will markedly increase its sales in the 2010 financial period. However, he said recovery to the boom levels of 2007 and 2008 is some years away.
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