Compounding extruder sales tend to be cyclical, but machinery makers report another solid year — thanks to automotive, medical, food packaging and growing interest in developing new bioresins.
Bob Urtel said Century Extrusion sold a lot of everything in 2014, including large and small machines, mid-sized lines for electronics, packaging and automotive, and research and development masterbatch. “It's been a really diverse year,” he said.
Urtel, Century Extrusion's president, said customers are adding equipment for new projects, not just buying replacement lines.
“Automotive for us is still strong, because we cover a broad range of that stuff — it's engineered material, automotive sealants, it's TPEs,” he said.
The company in Traverse City, Mich., is working on one compounding line with 17 feeders for delivery next year. And Urtel thinks that will be a theme for 2015: high-output machines and more turnkey systems, what he called “ingredient to pellet.”
“It's powering up production-scale machines that are producing between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds an hour range,” Urtel said.
John Effmann, director of sales and marketing at Entek Manufacturing Inc., said the company in Lebanon, Ore., has sold machines for compounding and new material development. Entek also is winning orders for new-plant engineering, where the company integrates turnkey systems, he said.
“The year started really slow for compounding,” Effmann said. “Then we saw the uptick in the second quarter happening, in May. And it has gone nuts since then. We're having a great year. It's been fun.”
Parts and service business also has been strong.
In 2015, an NPE year, Effmann — like some other machinery executives — thinks customers will hold off ordering until the show.
“We're still pretty bullish,” he said in November. “We think we're going to have a good rest of the year and a reasonably good first quarter. And then after the show, we think it's going to open up again.”
Also reporting a slower first quarter was Paul Roberson, president of NFM/Welding Engineers Inc. in Massillon, Ohio.
“I would say earlier in the year, things were fairly stable but not necessarily optimistic. And I think the last quarter here we've seen a lot of activity and we've closed some projects, It makes me think the outlook is pretty good going into next year,” he said.
Earlier this year, NFM/Welding Engineers opened a sales office in Dalian, China.
Steer America Inc. passed the 50 extruder milestone in late 2013, and business rolled on in 2014, according to Mike Millsaps, chief operations officer. The Uniontown, Ohio-based company is the North American unit of Indian compounding extruder maker Steer Engineering Pvt. Ltd.
“We started out the year white-hot, the busiest it's ever been in the six years we've been in business,” Millsaps said. “And June and July started slowing down a little bit. Things have slowed down from the beginning of the year, but it's still going to be a great year.”
He reports good business in compounding, color masterbatch machines, engineering resins and bioresins.
Millsaps said the compounding industry is a good economic indicator.
“If color [is] in demand, if housing and pipe and everything else is in demand, people need more plastic — and the compounders will see that. So just the overall pickup in the economy has really fueled that,” he said.
Charlie Martin said competition remains tough for compounding extruders, with 10 companies going after less than 10 machines a year. Martin, general manager of American Leistritz Extruder Corp., could re-work the opening to “A Tale of Two Cities” for the 2014 U.S. compounding extruder business: “It wasn't a terrible year, it wasn't a great year.”
“There's a finite number of co-rotating twin-screw [machines] sold in America, and there are too many suppliers,” Martin said. “It's another year in the trenches — slogging away.
American Leistritz, in Somerville, N.J., did see a pickup in lines for masterbatch colorants, which had been slow for a few years.
“It's niche markets, specialty compounding applications,” he said. “We feel pretty good. We maintained our market share and we've had another decent year.”
Automotive and commercial roofing means business is good at KraussMaffei Berstorff, according to Paul Caprio, president of KraussMaffei Corp. in Florence, Ky. More car builds also mean more tires — another Berstorff market.
“It's steady and it's going to stay steady,” Caprio said.
He also thinks the hydraulic fracturing boom will help the U.S. become a stronger location for materials.
“There's going to be more resin production and also compounding,” he said. “There's no question, there's an opportunity there.”
The year 2014 marked an important evolution for B&P Process Equipment and Systems LLC's TriVolution reciprocating kneader, according to Michael Lazorchak, global product manager. The Saginaw, Mich.-based company announced the technology at K 2010, then began inviting customers to test material at its tech center on a 60-millimeter line.
The early focus was on PVC, making the Trivolution a niche product. But Lazorchak said the technology, which provides a high throughout at slower speeds than a twin-screw extruder, has found broader applications.
“Now we are able to do some more of the mainstream compounding,” he said. “We've evaluated the quantified value of how this machine will operate on things like cross-linked polyethylene or mineral-filled polyolefins, some of your more standard materials.”
B&P is working on commercializing TriVolution for wood/fiber composites, and materials for thermal and electrical conductivity. The kneaders gives excellent dispersion for high loading of carbon black into polymers, he said. The company plans to display a TriVolution at NPE.
Lazorchak said customers now are expanding production, not just replacing older machines, and that will carry over into 2015.