North American shipments of plastics machinery increased 6 percent in the second quarter of 2017 compared with the second quarter a year ago, according to figures released by the Plastics Industry Association's Committee on Equipment Statistics.
Companies reported shipments of plastics equipment — injection molding, extrusion and blow molding machinery — totaling $335.6 million in the second quarter of 2017. Last year at this time, companies reported a total of $316.6 million. The association also reported second-quarter figures for 2017 are 10 percent stronger than the first quarter, which were $305.3 million.
"The shipments data for plastics equipment reported a solid gain in the second quarter, but it remains to be seen whether an upward trend can be sustained in the second half of the year," Bill Wood, a plastics market economist, said in a Sept. 21 news release. "I believe a more likely scenario is that the data in the second half of this year will come in flat-to-down."
Wood also is economics editor for Plastics News.
Other second-quarter shipment highlights from the association's Committee on Equipment Statistics include:
• Injection molding machine shipments increased 9 percent this quarter vs. a year ago.
• Single-screw extruders declined by 16 percent, while twin-screw extruders for both co-rotating and counter-rotating machines jumped 56 percent.
• Blow molding machine shipments dropped 2 percent this quarter.
The committee also surveyed plastics machinery suppliers about their future expectations, with 86 percent of respondents expecting market conditions to either hold steady or get better sometime next year.
The outlook for global market conditions in the coming year teetered around the word "steady." According to those surveyed, expectations for North America called for steady-to-better conditions in 2017 and negative expectations for 2018.
Medical and packaging are expected to be the strongest end markets in 2018, according to survey respondents, while expectations for demand from the automotive sector were mixed.
"Auto sales are down this year," Wood said in a Sept. 21 phone interview. "There were two years in a row of record sales, 2016 and 2015, and they're actually trending down in 2017."
Wood added that without any increase in demand, automakers will slow down their capital spending.
For machinery demand to pick up, Wood said, demand for plastics products by consumers needs to increase and output levels of plastics products have to grow "at a rate faster than 3-4 percent a year."
"If Congress passes corporate tax reform in 2017, then I still believe that an uptrend in the machinery data could re-emerge in 2018," Wood said.