Some blow molding machinery executives report soft packaging business in 2015, though automotive is pulling many boats, and industrial markets are fairly solid. And processors are investing to retrofit and rebuild their existing equipment.
“A lot of customers are repurposing their existing machines,” said Ron Krisanda, chief operating officer of Milacron Holdings Corp. “We see a lot more rebuild of the machines than we do new purchases.”
Milacron's Uniloy blow molding business in Tecumseh, Mich., partnered with Consolidated Container Co. to roll out, on Nov. 10, the Dura-Lite milk jugs in gallons and half gallons. Expect to see the new lighter-weight bottles in early 2016. Krisanda said innovations like that are important to tap growth in the reciprocating-screw dairy market.
Jeff Newman, vice president of sales and marketing at Wilmington Machinery, said a weaker market for big-volume wheel machines has promoted the company's move to smaller, single-serve equipment.
“We have slowed down a little bit in the blow molding side, and I think it's because there seems to be less of a demand for the high-speed rotary systems, that we've been focusing on,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with consolidation out there, and the fact that some of the bigger companies make their own machines.”
Newman said the company in Wilmington, N.C., “has shifted our focus almost exclusively to small-bottle technology,” and also is working on he what he called a “linear industrial machine.” He thinks there is some demand for new machinery, but “since the financial crisis the people are much more sensitive to ROI than they have in the past, in my opinion.”
Gina Haines, Graham Engineering Corp.'s vice president and chief marketing officer, said the blow molding machinery market rallied in the second half of 2014, but “it was off significantly again in the first half of 2015.”
Graham makes accumulator-head blow molding machines and wheel machines.
Haines said orders have again strengthened in the second half of this year. Graham, based in York, Pa., launched the Mini Hercules this year. It's a compact accumulator head machine that can handle shot sizes of 2.5, 5 or 8 pounds, in a single or dual-head configuration.
In machinery expansion news, Nissei ASB Co., which makes one-step presses for PET containers, is moving into a new custom-built building in Atlanta. Company officials announced the news in social media and trade magazines but did not provide more details in time for this story.
Interest in all-electric blow molding machines continues to grow, but the ongoing lower U.S. energy prices do highlight their higher price, officials said.
Bekum America Corp. offers all-electrics, but Gary Carr said more traditional hydraulic machines continues to be the company's “core business.”
“The interest in the all-electric, this is definitely in the medical arena, anything that might be run in a clean-room environment. That's an obvious strong fit,” said Carr, national sales director. “For the general blow molding community it remains a topic of interest. But when we look at equipment investment numbers, hydraulic vs. all-electric, the premium for all-electric is difficult to offset because we've got affordable energy in the U.S., for the money, and that's for the foreseeable future.”
Carr said Bekum America, in Williamston, Mich., has had “consistent and pretty strong [business] through the entire year.” The company began 2015 with a solid backlog “and went to the show with a full head of steam. We secured orders at the show and there's been no turning back since.”
Italian blow molding machine maker Plastiblow srl set up a North American sales office about a year ago, with Hamilton Plastic Systems Ltd. in Mississauga, Ontario. NPE 2015 was the official launch, President Steve Hamilton said. “That's when we started becoming a stocking distributor,” he said.
Plastiblow makes only all-electric extrusion blow molding machines, and Hamilton believes all-electric technology will be the standard in the future. “It just makes sense for so many reasons: Energy savings. You've got noise issues, housekeeping issues, with hydraulics,” he said. “None of these things are existing on an electric machine. So if you can get rid of the day-to-day things of a blow molding machine, it brings out the versatility of the machine.”
Robert Jackson agrees. All bottle blow molding machines should be all-electric, he said. “An electric machine is capable of self-correcting,” said the owner of Jackson Machinery Inc. in Port Washington, Wis.
Jackson said the electrics are much easier to operate. But he said price does remain an issue. “We need to build electric bottle machines at an attractive price point,” he said.
And Jackson made an announcement: Jackson Machinery plans to start building all-electric blow bottle presses in mid-2016.
The accumulator-head machinery business, which has struggled, is getting a major boost from automotive. Jackson thinks blow molded kayaks, and potential new large-part markets, such as fencing or tanks, could help. Thanks to light weighting, automotive will remain a big industrial blow molding market, he said.
“We're looking at some startling changes that the car people have to do to take weight out, and that is plastics,” Jackson said.
Bill Farrant, president of Kautex Machines Inc., said sales to North America are “still going strong,” mainly for multilayer automotive fuel tanks. Higher mileage and stronger emissions rules makes blow molding a winner for gas tanks, he said, because you can mold key parts inside the tank.
“The internalization of components has been one of the driving factors of new equipment, or modernization of existing machines,” Farrant said.
Kautex Machines, in North Branch, N.J., is busy, Farrant said. “We're still putting in new machines and we expect more machines in North America for the next two or three years, going forward. That market looks quite secure,” he said.
The strong car and truck industry also is helping accumulator-head press business at Davis-Standard LLC.
“We've seen nice improvement in our blow molding,” said Jim Murphy president and CEO of the company in Pawcatuck, Conn. “We've probably had the strongest backlog there that we've had in quite a while — five or six years. Part of it's being driven by a reinvestment in the automotive industry. Another part is around recreational-type products” such as kayaks.
Davis-Standard is moving manufacturing of its accumulator-head blow molding machinery from Bridgewater, N.J., to leased space next to its Black Clawson equipment factory in Fulton, N.Y.