“There are phone calls I get weekly that ask for quick delivery on large-tonnage machines. None of the OEMs have a 2,000- or a 3,000-ton machine sitting on the floor ready to ship,” Duff said.
Duff said there's another change in the last decade-plus: automation. Almost every Negri Bossi unit shipped comes with an automation cell.
“People are really looking at reducing their costs,” he said.
Most machinery officials think 4,000 units — if it happens — will be high water mark and that 3,500 units is the “new normal” for the U.S. injection press market.
Mark Sankovitch is one who thinks press sales will start to slow again in 2016, after several years of growth.
“What's happening, the curve is starting to bend. The year-end growth is starting to bend. I find it will be hard to get over 4,000 units,” he said.
Sankovitch is president of Engel Machinery Inc. in York, Pa. Automotive is Engel's largest market. North American auto production is nearing 17 million a year.
“Automotive is still strong in the U.S., but where we'll see a higher percentage growth is Mexico,” he said. “I think we're at the point where we won't see that much growth after 2015. In 2016 we'll start to see some slowing again, especially in large-tonnage machines.”
Last year's brutal winter took a toll on the U.S. economy, as gross domestic product plunged nearly 3 percent in the first quarter. Even so, plastics machinery remained resilient, increasing 11 percent over the first quarter of 2013, SPI reported.
Machinery executives agreed.
“January, from our perspective, was the slowest month. But we picked up strong right after that,” Frohring said.
Auto suppliers add capacity
Automakers and their plastics part suppliers are building new factories to keep up with demand, said David Bernardi, senior sales and marketing manager at Ube machinery Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. And companies are replacing older machines in existing plants.
“Because of the efficiencies of modern machines, you not only replace it, but you increase your productivity, because you've got a faster, more-efficient machine,” Bernardi said.
Molders are expanding, reports Ron Krisanda, chief operating officer of Milacron LLC. “There was a tremendous amount of investment in new capacity in 2014,” he said. Companies invested in new machinery across all the primary industries: automotive, packaging, consumer and medical. “The demand for equipment remains high.”
Automotive is a key market for the Cincinnati-based Milacron. The company is working on innovations that officials said will be attractive to that sector, including the Mold-Masters Fusion G2 and Vision hot-runner-nozzle assemblies. Milacron also will now incorporate MuCell foaming technology, for molding lightweight parts, onto its injection presses, under a partnership with Trexel Inc.
Industrywide, Krisanda said demand for injection presses grew by about 5 percent in 2014 and should increase the same percentage in 2015. But sales value actually jumped 10 percent in 2014 because of the mix of larger-tonnage machines, mainly for automotive, he said.
John Martich III said U.S. business has grown about 12 percent this year at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery, spread across packaging, automotive and other markets. “There's still some pent-up activity,” said Martich, vice president and chief operating officer at company's U.S. operations in Strongsville, Ohio.
Paul Caprio, president of KraussMaffei Corp., called the resurgent injection press market “a great comeback.
“Next year's going to be as good as this year. Customers keep ordering. They know they need machinery. Unless something changes drastically, I expect another banner year [in 2015],” Caprio said.
The packaging injection press market has been somewhat flat, Caprio, but he said the improving economy should help.
“With people being employed, I think packaging's going to pick up,” Caprio said.
In other preform press news, Athena Automation Ltd. is building a 150,000-square-foot factory in Vaughan, Ontario. Jim Overbeeke, vice president of sales, said the building should be completed toward the end of 2015. Officials plan to build up to four machines a month in the existing, smaller headquarters next door.
Overbeeke said Athena now has six employees who will travel for service and installation, and two in the shop to handle spare parts.
“Business has been strong,” he said.
Arburg's new U.S. headquarters will open in 2015 in Rocky Hill, Conn., a few miles from its current building in Newington, Conn. Ward is bullish on continuing growth.
“Automotive looks strong for the next five years,” Ward said. “The medical market suffered a lot with the Obamacare effect on certain companies, which did not invest as much, but it still remains strong, relatively speaking. Consumer packaging also is strong.”
HPM North America Corp. also is opening a new facility, a 40,000-square-foot showroom in Marion, Ohio. HPM President William Flickinger said the company will run a new 1,100-ton two-platen press at an open house Dec. 9-11. HPM sells presses assembled in China by its parent company, Guangdong Yizumi Precision Machinery Co. Ltd.
HPM was known for years as a large-press maker.
“A lot of doors will open for us with this new two-platen machine,” Flickinger said. It will be available from 900 to 3,500 tons.
“We're getting a lot of inquiries and requests for quotes. It's just a really strong market right now,” said Bob Columbus, regional sales manager at JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. in Lake Zurich, Ill. “Automotive is extremely strong for us, and we're selling a lot of larger-tonnage machines, which we're happy about.”
“Business is fantastic,” said Peter Gardner, who sells Niigata machines. DJK Global Group of Wood Dale, Ill, distributes the presses. Gardner said Niigata is selling large-tonnage machines to Japanese automotive transplants, in the United States and Mexico. “A lot of the Japanese auto manufacturers are building in Mexico, and with that comes all the tier suppliers.”
Automotive “still seems strong, and everybody is busy,” said Tom Geddes, national sales manager at MHI Injection Molding Machinery Inc. in Bensenville, Ill.
Marko Korneef, president of Boy Machines Inc., said the small-press supplier is stocking more machines than ever in Exton, Pa., to meet faster delivery times. Boy also is working overtime and training people.
“I'm looking at a 30 percent growth,” he said. “Business is really good.”
Sodick Plustech Co. Ltd. is gaining business from molders of high temperature engineering grades, said Len Hampton, national sales manager of the U.S. unit in Schaumburg, Ill. Sodick plans to launch several new presses at NPE next year, including a vertical rotary press and a global-platform horizontal machine.