As he strolled the show floor of K 2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany, last October, Bob Jackson was hard-pressed to find what had been an expo staple throughout his plastics career in mostly blow molding.
"I walked around. And then I looked around again," Jackson, 73, said. "There were no hydraulic machines. They were all all-electrics or hybrids."
The founder and president of Jackson Machinery Inc. in Port Washington, Wis., said he asked attendees who had also been to K 2013 what that show was like and was told about half the machines were hydraulic.
"That's a massive changeover in three years," Jackson said in a telephone interview. "We still have hydraulics and we will 10 years from now, but we will mostly be selling new electrics."
He knows the appeal. No hydraulic pressure settings and relief valves to adjust manually. That reduces operator error, downtime and maintenance while providing accurate, repeatable results.
"The machine is smarter. It can't do things that the hydraulic machine can inadvertently do to break itself," Jackson said. "As a result, people will, as they are in Europe, buy all-electric."
He figures less than 1 percent of the blow molders operating in the United States are electric compared to 20 to 25 percent in Europe with both markets lagging greatly behind the injection molding sector, which began its transition much earlier.
After graduate school at Wayne State University, Jackson got his first job in the industry at the former Peninsular Machinery Co., in Detroit. It was 1968, just a year after actor Dustin Hoffman's character Benjamin Braddock was given that one word of famous career advice: plastics.
"Plastics is the game," Jackson said, referring to the movie "The Graduate." "Today plastics is still growing but not as rapidly."
Still, he shares similar advice to young adults considering jobs in all plastics sectors.
"It's healthy across the board," Jackson said. "We've an expanding world population and the only way to feed and clothe everyone is with synthetic materials, whether it is rayon, nylon or plastic water bottles. Plastics are an integral part of feeding and caring for humans. Our forefathers managed just fine, but in today's society you can't live without it in the lifestyle we've managed to get ourselves to, so it is an absolute necessary ingredient."
When he was starting out, Peninsular Machinery was one of the oldest machine tool houses in the country. As a new hire, Jackson was faced with a choice that he looked at in terms of two briefcases.