Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. had to scramble as thieves stole one of its tractor-trailer trucks with two injection molding presses from a locked staging area north of Daytona Beach, Fla., on March 12 — less than two weeks before NPE 2015.
“I've been doing shows for 35 years and this takes the cake,” said Tom Betts, the company's regional manager for injection molding. He is in Florida helping set up the booth.
The thieves broke through the locked security fencing at Borwegen Trucking's staging lot in Ormond Beach, Fla., in the early morning hours of March 12.
The truck was attached to a side-curtain trailer — one with canvas and not hard sides. They abandoned the trailer along an exit ramp off I-95 south.
The trailer sank into soft sand and tipped over, damaging two presses that were bound for Wittmann Battenfeld's booth at NPE in Orlando, which begins March 23: A new SmartPower press, slated for introduction at NPE, and an EcoPower machine. Both were damaged, said David Preusse, president of Wittmann Battenfeld in Torrington, Conn.
Within eight hours, Wittmann Battenfeld in Torrington pulled two other machines from inventory — another EcoPower, with 300 tons of clamping force, and a 55-ton EcoPower 55-ton press — and got them ready to ship from Connecticut to Orlando.
A W832 New Pro Series robot also was on the stolen truck, but it seems to be fine.
“We think it kind-of rolled over slowly,” Betts said. “The robot stayed strapped to the deck of the trailer, and so it doesn't appear as though it was damaged,” Betts said. “We also had a mold that was strapped to the deck of the trailer and it seems to just fine as well.”
Just to be safe, Wittmann Battenfeld shipped a replacement W832 backup to Orange County Convention Center.
The robot is one of several that will take part in the company's automation showcase performance at NPE 2015: Robots working a NASCAR pit stop.
Betts said police have located the semi-truck. “The truck has been impounded so they can check it for evidence,” he said.
An official of the trucking company has a theory, Betts said — that since it's Bike Week in Daytona Beach March 6-15, the thieves could have thought the trailer was full of motorcycles.
Injection molding machines — as exciting as they may be for visitors to NPE 2015 — are boring compared to a Harley, especially during Bike Week.
The stolen truck was one of 15 trailer trucks parked in the staging area, ready to haul Wittmann Battenfeld equipment and booth materials to NPE 2015. When the truck driver arrived at the yard the morning of March 12, he found someone had broken through the fencing and stolen his truck and trailer.
“It must've happened in the morning hours, overnight. Somebody broke into the gated yard and basically stole it. It was reported to us yesterday morning,” Betts said by telephone March 13, as he drove to the scene to meet with an insurance adjuster.
The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating. No arrests had been made by mid-morning March 13. Betts was working with police, and he was there as crews tipped the trailer back, right-side up.
Betts said police told him these types of thefts happen fairly regularly in Florida.
“What they do apparently, is they'll steal the tractor and trailer and then they just get away as quickly as possible, and then they find an isolated area where they can swap out the tractor with a different tractor so the tractor and trailer no longer matches the description of the trailer that is stolen,” he said.
The thieves then sell the stolen trailer.
Police told Betts the thieves probably were trying to swap it out, but one side of the truck started to sink in the sand. They fled the scene with the tractor.
Preusse said Torrington has about 40 injection molding machines in inventory.
“Time is of the essence, because just in a few days, our show booth will be surrounded by heavy equipment. Everything's based on logistical timing,” he said.