U.S. blow molding machinery sales bounded back in 2010, as processors freed up money for projects that got put on hold in the recession-racked 2009.
Machinery executives reported strengthening capital spending on the packaging side PET blow molding machines and extrusion blow molding machines to make polyethylene packaging.
One surprise this year: Renewed life in what has been a moribund accumulator-head sector. Credit a resurgent automotive industry, machinery officials said.
According to executives, blow molding machinery is getting a boost from the twin trends of Wal-Mart's packaging sustainability scorecard and a move to self-manufacturing, where food and beverage companies are getting into the blow molding business. And they often go hand-in-hand, since blow-and-fill cuts shipping costs and greenhouse gases.
Peter Andrich said self-manufacturing is happening at an accelerated pace, and it's really only about to pick up right now.
Andrich is executive director of sales for KHS Corpoplast North America Inc. of Flemington, N.J., which supplies equipment for PET bottle blowing and filling.
Lightweighting also is driving self-manufacturing, Andrich said. Water bottles are down to 9 grams or even thinner, and they can easily get banged up on a truck. Hot-fill PET bottles also are well-suited for self-manufacturing, since the thermal stability of the bottle is maintained, he said. That allows for pretty dramatic lightweighting, Andrich said.
KHS Corpoplast had a solid 2009, despite the recession, as the company supplied specialty projects. Andrich said sales have increased in 2010, as KHS got into more commodity-type machines.
Dave Yenor, of Graham Engineering Corp. in York, Pa., said the Wal-Mart scorecard may not directly drive new-machine sales. But it's part of the discussion when people do buy a machine, he said.
Yenor, vice president of global business development, said 2010 was marked by a fairly decent recovery and he thinks it will continue in 2011. It actually began at the very end of last year and then stayed consistent throughout the year, he said.
Uniloy Milacron has won business by selling high-end European machines, shuttles from Italy and industrial machines from Germany, said Dave Skala, vice president and general manager. In 2010, the firm in Tecumseh, Mich., enjoyed its best first half for bookings since 2000.
Skala said big-box retailers will keep driving packaging design changes as they drive out costs and push sustainability.
As retailers analyze the complete life cycle of consumer products, machinery suppliers will play a new role, according to Skala: We're finding ourselves coordinating more with the whole logistical supply chain of the market.
For Bekum America Corp., 2010 turned out to be a very good business year, said Gary Carr, national sales director. We came into the year with a good backlog and business has been steady all through the calendar year.
Carr said sales were spread across all regions of the country, with a good mix of new and existing customers, and big and small companies. That bodes well for 2011, although question marks remain for the U.S. economy. Our outlook for next year is one of continued business stability. But the one thing that's still looming is the lingering feeling that our economy is still fragile, he said.
Bekum's German parent company made news at K 2010 by launching the company's first all-electric blow molder. Carr said the EBlow will help crack the medical and pharmaceutical markets, for clean room molding.
Nissei ASB Machine Co. Ltd. showed a hot-fill blow molder at K 2010, the HSB-6M, that cranks out 6,000 wide-mouth jars an hour. This is the first inroad into wide-mouth hot fill, and there's nobody else in the industry that's doing it, said Jamie Pace, vice president and general manager of Nissei ASB Co., the Atlanta-based U.S. operation.
A specialty in packaging for food, personal-care and household products has helped Nissei ASB weather the economic storm. Business did slow in the second half of 2009, then snapped back strongly in the second half of 2010, he said.
The last three of four months were absolutely outstanding, Pace said in a K show interview in Dusseldorf.
Sidel Inc. rebounded in 2009 from a tough 2008, and this year the recovery continued, according to Keith Boss, vice president and general manager for the Atlanta-based unit. He thinks it will take until 2012 for business to get back to Sidel's peak years of 2006 and 2007 in North America.
At K 2010, Sidel introduced a blow molding machine that dramatically cuts energy costs.
As part of Tetra Laval International SA, Sidel can offer complete packaging lines, from blow molding to labeling to palletizing. That turnkey expertise helps Sidel get business setting up self-manufacturing plants, Boss said.
R&B Plastics Machinery LLC has seen steady mold business through its Monroe Mold operation, and new orders for blow molding machines, according to President Al Hodge.
But capital investments in large machines are still a slow go, he said.
One reason: consolidation.
Australian packaging giant Amcor Ltd. led the biggest one in 2010, when it bought Ball Corp.'s plastic packaging operations in the Americas and became the largest blow molder in North America. That followed Amcor's 2009 acquisition of Alcan Packaging's global pharmaceutical business.
There's been so much consolidation out there that people still need to see what they have, Hodge said in a telephone interview from R&B headquarters in Saline, Mich.
Hodge is optimistic about 2011. We're looking at having a positive year. I'm not saying it's going to be great by any means, but we think it'll be a good year.
In mid-2010, Siapi srl, the Italian stretch blow molding press maker, opened a U.S. subsidiary in Norcross, Ga. Having domestic sales and service, and a showroom, will help Siapi generate sales here, said Marco Manzini, president and CEO. The company is targeting large-capacity and wide-mouth PET containers.
We expect for next year we will also have a positive development in the U.S. market, and we'll try and start reaping the results of the investment we have been building here, Manzini said.
To us, it has not been a huge recovery, this year, at all, said Werner Amsler, president of W. Amsler Equipment Inc. Instead, the company in Richmond Hill, Ontario, developed new technology for 2011, such as convertible machines that can produce bottles as large as 2 liters on a three-cavity press, up to 3-liter bottles on a two-cavity setup and 5-liter on a single-cavity. Amsler's entire product range is all-electric.
The outlook for next year is excellent, Amsler said.
Frank Varuzza, sales manager for North America at Bologna, Italy-based Automa SpA, said the company experienced slow business in the first half of 2010, thanks mainly to the blow molding consolidations. But toward the second of the year, from July onward, we have at least three customers that have very good projects on replacing some of the old machines. They're at a point now where they have to become more efficient, he said.
Automa makes one-step PET machines and extrusion blow molders. Varuzza said U.S. blow molders are reporting more than 80 percent factory utilization, with far fewer idle machines than the last two or three years. We're hoping there's going to be a decent amount of growth in 2011, he said.
Another Italian blow molding press maker in Bologna, Techne SpA, filed for protection from creditors in mid-October, and now is talking to new investors. Techne stopped taking orders for new machines around March of 2010.
Looking forward, we are optimistic to be building machines starting in the New Year, pending the investors coming into the company. There's still a significant interest in our technology, said Kyle Grodzinski, vice president of Techne North America Inc. in Aurora, Ontario.
Akei USA saw a sudden pickup in interest in mid-2010, according to Roger Eddy, sales and service representative in New Castle, Pa. Akei switched to a Eurotherm Compact controller, which should help U.S. sales, he said.
New life for old sector
Long beaten-down, the U.S. market for accumulator-head machines is finally growing again thanks to a reinvigorated automotive industry, that includes suppliers for new transplant factories and renewed vigor by the Big Three, machinery executives said.
Jackson Machinery Inc. sells used accumulator-head machines in Port Washington, Wis., and guess what? There aren't many good ones left, as molders snapped them up last year, said President Robert Jackson.
Jackson said about 10 new accumulator-head machines were sold, to a single large consumer- products project and to automotive. But that could double in 2011, thanks to capital investment in automotive, which industry officials say accounts for about half of the total accumulator-head demand.
It should be a good market, he said.
The automotive growth is happening in duct-work and stereo speaker cabinets, said Mark Panaro, product manager of blow molding systems at Davis-Standard LLC of Pawcatuck, Conn. Quote activity's improving. It was flat for three years and no one sold anything. But it looks like the glut of used machines has run its course, he said.
Automotive suppliers are looking at larger-sized industrial machines, Panaro said. Business also is picking up in kayaks, floating docks and other markets, he added.
Yenor, of Graham Engineering, said accumulator-head machines are still a long way from the heyday of the late 1990s, when the U.S. market was upwards of 100 presses. But for us, it's still been a relevant, steady business. It seems as though the used equipment market has dried up, finally, which is a good indicator for future growth, he said.
Existing capacity for blow molded fuel tanks is dampening sales of multilayer machines to that sector, according to Bill Farrant, president and CEO of Kautex Machines Inc. in North Branch, N.J. But he said the opposite is true for suction blow molding, as there is still not much U.S. capacity for that process, which makes complex ducts and other industrial parts.
Kautex also wants to raise its profile in packaging.