Compounding extruders continued their comeback this year, with something new — demand for large-volume compounding machines, industry officials said.
A resurgent automotive sector, joined with steady packaging and recycling markets, has helped the machinery sector shrug off the big construction slowdown. More niche segments held up, as they did throughout the downturn, such as smaller, more flexible lines and extruders for color masterbatch and biomaterials.
But the big news for 2011 is exactly that: The economic recovery has spurred sales of some big compounding lines.
“This is a general expansion in some of those traditional markets that we serve, the general compounding market,” said Bob Urtel, president of Century Extrusion. “Existing customers of ours that are in that product segment, they added new capacity. And new customers that made a decision to switch to us in the past year, they were also in that general compounding area.”
Century Extrusion of Traverse City, Mich., did not sell many small lines this year, Urtel said. Instead, customers bought midrange and large machines. And the extruder maker has a good backlog for 2012: “We're forecasting our biggest year ever,” he said.
At Entek Manufacturing Inc., John Effmann agreed. “There's been a significant shift for our business into large systems, and we see that,” he said. “What we're really loving about the whole thing is, we consider ourselves in five marketplaces, and four of them are going great guns.”
The good? Packaging, bioresins, compounding and specialty sheet. The bad? Construction.
U.S. car and light-truck sales have rebounded to about 13 million this year, and economists predict a modest rise in 2012.
“Compounders we deal with, they've seen significant increases from the automotive side,” Effmann said. “That seems universal.”
Lebanon, Ore.-based Entek has doubled its employment from 50 in 2009 to 100 today, he said.
In Massillon, Ohio, NFM/Welding Engineers Inc. has enjoyed broad-based sales this year, said Jim Surma, account manager for TEM compounding extruders. That includes color compounding, bioresins and recycling.
“Because the resin prices being so high, we have a lot of inquiries for recycling lines,” Surma said.
“We've had a good year,” said Steve Peterson, vice president and director of Farrel Pomini in Ansonia, Conn. The company specializes in large-volume compounding lines and extruders to make additives like calcium carbonate and titanium dioxide.
Early next year, Farrel Pomini will open a laboratory in Oxford, Conn., near Ansonia.
American Leistritz Extruder Corp. enjoyed strong sales of extruders for packaging materials, and direct extrusion to the pharmaceutical industry, according to Charlie Martin, general manager of the Somerville, N.J., company.
“Some people are doing well, but some people are not. I think the people that weathered the storm in 2008 and 2009 are doing well and the companies that didn't are paying for it,” Martin said.
American Leistritz has a backlog into the second quarter of 2012, he said in mid-November.
KraussMaffei Corp. President Paul Caprio said the Berstorff compounding machine business is having another year of “explosive” growth. The company is based in Florence, Ky.
Caprio said small and nimble machines will continue to be popular as compounders need to do more changeovers.
Ulrich Bartel, president of Coperion Corp., said high-torque technology also means that small machines can put out a larger amount of material.
“What also helps us is the quality approach. Nowadays, everybody is looking into cost reduction,” and that often means replacing older machines, he said.
And Bartel said manufacturing is doing better than a casual observer would believe.
“To me the biggest surprise is the disconnect from what you read about the financial markets and the global economy and debt crisis and so on. Because when I talk to my customers here in the U.S. and the NAFTA region, it's been very good,” Bartel said.