KM's Netstal operation also makes presses for thin-wall packaging. “So we're seeing even if automotive starts to dip, we're seeing the other markets are picking up.”
Bob Columbus, sales manager at JSW Machinery Inc., said automotive accounts for more than half of total sales at the company. “We had real good growth in automotive this year,” he said.
JSW, of Lake Zurich, Ill., wants to diversify.
“We are in packaging. And we are developing an improved packaging machine. We're going to announce that next year,” Columbus said. “But where we really need to focus more attention is really in the health care industry. We're going to spend more time in the medical industry.”
Columbus said business seemed to slow a bit in the second half of 2016. It had nothing to do with the election, he said: “No. people talk about it and grumble about the election every four years.”
John Martich said the first half of the year was pretty active, especially in automotive and packaging. Mid-year, business was up and down, but nobody expected a repeat of 2015's post-NPE boomlet, said the vice president and chief operating officer of Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery's North American operations.
“There's still a steady automotive market. We see good strong packaging activity, and also general purpose custom molding,” Martich said.
Duff, of HPM in Marion, Ohio, handles small to mid-sized accounts.
“The market's been very steady. We've seen sales sort of run along. We are not seeing a downturn — at least not at HPM,” he said.
He said HPM's line of new large two-platen molding machines, which goes up to 3,500 tons in clamping force, has generated interest in automotive, but also housewares, appliances, home building products and other big products such as bins for agriculture.
Glenn Frohring, president of Absolute Haitian Corp. in Worcester, Mass., which sells Haitian machines made in China, said the company is “still growing in the U.S. and I think our market has been steady compared to last year. I don't think we're going to see a drop, but we're not seeing a huge increase, either.”
Frohring considers it a good sign that he saw more U.S. customers than ever at this year's K show.
“I think what it says is, the health of the U.S. processors are in, they felt it was overall worthwhile to send staff to Germany.” he said.
Plastics News economics editor Bill Wood said growth at U.S. processors actually has slowed down, after enjoying upward momentum the past several years. So equipment numbers have started to level off.
The machinery business is still good, he said, but a “slow leak” through part of 2016 will show up in the equipment numbers. For 2017, “I've got machinery actually about flat with this year, possibly a little bit better,” said Wood, who runs Mountaintop Economics & Research Inc. in Greenfield, Mass.
Capacity utilization for plastics and rubber products makers has been around 77 percent all year, according to the Federal Reserve Board.
Packaging seems to be ever-strong, demanding high-speed molding of thin-wall parts.
Athena Automation Ltd. in Vaughn, Ontario, moved into its new 150,000-square-foot factory building this year. Athena machines mold PET preforms and food packaging. “Business has been slow and steady, account by account,” said Jim Overbeeke, vice president of sales.
The company is assembling its first cube molding system for a flip-top closure, Overbeeke said in late November. “The outlook for next year looks strong,” he said.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Inc., in Bolton, Ontario, is optimistic about continued growth in PET packaging, especially the company's Multi-layer Barrier Technology, which should drive conversion to PET.
A Husky spokesman said officials also are “encouraged by the recent launch of our next generation HyCAP4 system for beverage closure molding, as well as the introduction of our HyperSync integrated system for molding specialty closure applications.”
Len Hampton, U.S. national sales manager for Sodick Plustech Co. Ltd., said the U.S. unit, based in Schaumburg, Ill., focuses on “more sophisticated” molders in medical. Micromolding is a focus
Sodick also is doing more business in molders serving high-end displays and light guides, he said.
Dale Bartholomew, product manager for Maruka USA in Pine Brook, N.J., which sells Toyo presses, said the company is getting some orders for large machines, as it moves more into automotive. Medical is the firm's biggest market.
Niigata's Gardner said medical is a solid growth area for his company, and a market where all-electrics are preferred over hydraulic or servo-hydraulic type machines.