GANDHINAGAR, INDIA — Expected growth in the Indian plastics market is leading several global machinery firms to make investments there, including Austria's Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH, which announced its second expansion there in two years, and Germany's Illig Maschinenbau GmbH.
Wittmann Battenfeld's top executive in the country, for example, said at the recent Plastindia trade fair that the company plans another expansion this year at its facility in Chennai, to meet demands from the country's processors for higher quality equipment.
The company began making in-mold labeling robots in November, and plans to expand its product range in India, rather than importing from Europe, said Nanda Kumar, president of Wittmann Battenfeld India Pvt. Ltd.
“Indian plastic processors are increasingly focusing on upgrading quality standards, installing energy saving equipment and gearing up [for a] greater role in the international market,” Kumar told Plastics News. “The expansion would pave way for quicker delivery.”
Wittmann Battenfeld expanded its Chennai operation from 8,000 square meters to 10,000 square meters in 2013, and now plans to add another 4,000 square meters, giving it 14,000 total, by the end of this year, he said.
“The production of more equipment at Chennai plant is to provide European technology in Indian pricing,” Kumar said.
The executives spoke during interviews at the Plastindia trade fair, held Feb. 5-10 in Gandhinagar.
While these companies are talking investment, statistics suggest that the Indian market has not been kind to foreign plastics equipment suppliers recently, reflecting tough conditions in India's manufacturing sector.
The German plastics and rubber machinery trade group VDMA, for example, said in January that exports to India by all German plastics machinery makers fell 15 percent in the first 10 months of 2014, on top of a drop of 25 percent in 2013.
Germany is the second-largest exporter of plastics machines to India.
VDMA said that nine of the 10 largest plastics machinery exporting countries to India in 2013 reported a drop in sales, including the largest exporter, China. As well, statistics from Taiwan's large plastics machinery industry show a similar trend – sizable drops in exports in 2013 and in the first eight months of 2014.
Still, companies with their eyes on investments seemed to be trying to take a longer-term approach.
An executive with German thermoforming and packaging machinery maker Illig Maschinenbau GmbH said it has decided to invest about 1 million euros in a small production plant in India, and is assessing the market.
“We hope to start production by the end of 2015,” Karl Schauble, managing director of the Heilbronn, Germany-based firm. “We are trying to figure out which is the right machine or product to be introduced here and also trends in the next five years, so that we bring in the range that fits into this market.”
The company has made more than 100 product installations in India since 1972, operating through a distributor, he said, and it too sees the market wanting higher-quality equipment. He said Illig plans to start small in India, and he declined to specify where the factory would be located.
Schauble said the company is waiting for the upcoming budget proposal from new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, due at the end of February, to assess the longer-term industrial policy in the country.
Several of the machinery companies said their Indian operations are becoming larger export bases, particularly for neighboring countries, the Middle East and Africa.
Dutch pipe extruder maker Rollepaal B.V. said it's expanding its operation in Ahmedabad, India, in part to meet growing demand from nearby regions.
“We have seen growth in these markets and the expansion is to serve the markets of Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” said Johann Bryan, chief operating officer of Rollepaal, which first set up its operation in India in 2003 and began seeing more export demand about a year ago.
“We have added good numbers particularly in the Asian and African markets, that force us to rework the strategy in these regions,” he said. “Hence the decision to go-ahead with the expansion.”
The Dedemsvaart, the Netherlands-based company said its Indian expansion is likely to be completed by the end of the year.
“We have already made the decision to buy the land for expansion at the current location in Ahmedabad,” Bryan said. “The expansion is in keeping with the strategic position of the India market, which may grow at a much faster pace in the years to come, with growing infrastructure and agricultural sectors and its location to serve the other neighboring markets.”
Wittmann Battenfeld, as well, said its factory in Chennai has also made more of a push recently with exports to the Middle East and South Africa.
Taiwanese injection press maker Jon Wai Machinery Works Co. Ltd. said the firm is looking seriously at manufacturing in India, and has shortlisted likely plant locations in Pune, in Maharashtra state, or Baroda, in Gujarat.
Tushan Pawar, multi-regional chief for Jon Wai, said in an interview at Plastindia that Jon Wai recently opened its second sales office in India, in New Delhi, after starting in Mumbai five years ago.
He said the company has sold 700 presses in India, and could start manufacturing there in two years: “the market is growing and we have created space for ourselves.”
Pawar said the Taipei-based company is waiting for more clarity on the industrial policy of the Modi government, particularly for streamlined policies regarding approval of foreign direct investment.
Jon Wai is also seeing growth in Africa, and would see a potential India factory as a location to more easily reach that market.
“Besides the India market, the proposed plant would cater to the African market as that market is also growing vertically for us,” Pawar said.
He said an Indian factory would also help the company produce more cost-effective machines for the local market. He said the Indian market suffered last year with the fall in the value of the rupee against the U.S. dollar.