Ohio is staging a mini-renaissance in plastics machinery. For industry veterans, it's great to see the state's machinery fortunes turn around.
The comeback is grounded in the resurgence of Milacron LLC in Batavia, Ohio, near Cincinnati, the only U.S. company to manufacture a broad line of primary equipment, including injection molding machines.
Less than a decade ago, Ohio was home to injection press manufacturing from Van Dorn in Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, and HPM in small-town Mount Gilead. Van Dorn and HPM both ended production. (Van Dorn did remain open for parts and service under its Japanese parent, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, with a small workforce).
The Great Recession of 2009 seemed to hammer the final nail in the coffin. And the global economy hit hard, as injection press suppliers faced lots of auctions that dumped good, low-priced machines on the U.S. market.
But the global economy giveth, and taketh away. It is fitting that today's rebound in Ohio is aided by machinery companies in Japan and China.
The modest resurgence got juiced April 10, when Sumitomo Demag held a grand opening of a new technology center in Strongsville, housing seven injection molding machines making parts in a brightly lit area. Customers can do mold trials and take training classes at the facility, conveniently located right by the Ohio Turnpike.
On the other side of the wall is a major rebuilding department, to capitalize on the estimated 26,000 Van Dorn presses still running in North America. This is the building where hundreds of people toiled to build new Van Dorn presses for years. Now it employs 57, but it was good to see the operation buzzing with excitement once again.
Down in Marion, Ohio, one county over from Mount Gilead, HPM is showing new life thanks to China's Guangdong Yizumi Precision Machinery Co. Ltd. Yizumi bought HPM's intellectual property at an auction at the shuttered, hulking Mount Gilead factory. Yizumi wanted access to HPM's well-known name (dating way back to the apple-press days in the 1800s), and its die-casting equipment technology.
Now HPM North America Corp., led by long-time HPM executive William Flickinger, is delivering its first China-built
HPM injection molding machine, to fellow Buckeye State customer Pleasant Precision Inc.
HPM employs 12 people
The next Ohio machinery event comes May 9, when Absolute Haitian Corp. holds an open house at its new technical center in Parma Ohio, near Cleveland. The Worcester, Mass.-based company sells injection presses from Chinese powerhouse Haitian International Holdings Ltd.
The Parma center, which opened last year, houses parts and service personnel and a training center.
Of course, Milacron remains an important global company, with deep roots in Ohio. Milacron now employs more than 800 people in the main assembly plant in Batavia and a machining plant in nearby Mount Orab.
Milacron went through bankruptcy reorganization and layoffs in 2009. But the company has rehired lots of people. It supports new local training initiatives to help find the next generation of industrial workers —- serving as an example to U.S. manufacturing, which is seriously lagging in that area.
What's striking about the comebacks, especially Sumitomo Van Dorn and HPM, is the large number of long-term employees, many of them with 20 or more years of experience. They have been through the wars, seen the harsh global realities that killed once-proud names like New Britain, Reed-Prentice, Natco and Beloit. Most said goodbye in the 1970s and 1980s, and for awhile, it looked like the United States was becoming a deindustrialized nation.
But industry survived, and a smaller, tougher U.S. plastics sector is fighting back — an industry largely centered in the Midwest. And Ohio is right there, crossroads to a new future.
Bregar is a Plastics News senior reporter in Akron, Ohio.