Frohring, of Absolute Haitian, said if the trade war is short, it could mitigate the need to charge more.
"I don't think we're going to raise prices, because if the tariff goes away, the price stays the same. And it's just working together to manage the tariffs," he said.
Heyse said that the uncertainty over the duration of the China tariffs makes it hard to plan for the future. Hong Kong-based Chen Hsong formally kicked off its effort to sell in the United States and Canada, through CH-America, at NPE2018. Now the tariffs come just as the business is starting. The firm does have some machines in inventory, he said.
"We don't know how long it's going to last. We don't know how much of the tariff to pass through to our customers, so we are really trying to take a step-by-step approach to this," Heyse said. "We are looking at raising prices, hopefully temporarily."
CH-America gave customers and sales representatives advance notice about the pending tariffs. "We gave [customers] a fixed date of a week past the tariffs to purchase the machines at the existing prices, and after that prices are going to be increased."
Tariffs on equipment from China will hit the broader plastics machinery sector, as most primary equipment manufacturers have become highly international, securing components overseas for U.S. press assembly operations, and even exporting completed machines.
Austria-based Engel Holding GmbH builds its general purpose injection press, Wintec, in Changzou, China, and this year started selling them in the United States.
"We'll continue to proceed forward with Wintec," said Mark Sankovitch, president of Engel Machinery Inc., the company's U.S. operation in York, Pa.
Sankovitch said Engel could shift some Wintec production to another country. The e-win electric Wintec press is not made in China now, he said.
As a global player, Engel is trying to be proactive and inform customers about the situation, Sankovitch said. But he said all major machinery companies face challenges, especially for machinery ordered months ago, and under construction, which now fall under the tariff.
"You may be so far along in the schedule of that process that there's no turning back, in the sense that I can go and maybe have this manufactured someplace else. It doesn't work that way. So now you're stuck," he said.
In a case like that, the machinery supplier and customer have to strike a compromise, since neither side can absorb the full 25 percent increase, he said.
Meanwhile, Engel announced at NPE2018 that it will resume U.S. assembly of large-tonnage injection presses in York this year.
Sankovitch said the company is dealing with Trump's executive order for China tariffs on a day-to-day basis. "As quickly as it comes, it can go away. So it's the stroke of a pen by Mr. Trump," he said.
Milacron Holdings Corp. is based in Ohio but has far-flung manufacturing operations around the world. Showing how global manufacturing and supply chain issues make the tariff issue more complicated, in May, Milacron CEO Tom Goeke filed comments about the tariff with the office of the U.S government, saying the company favored tariffs on finished Chinese plastics machinery that it competes against, but arguing that tariffs should not be enacted on Chinese-made components that Milacron uses.
Contacted for this story, Milacron Chief Financial Officer Bruce Chalmers said the publicly traded company would not comment until after it releases second-quarter financial results on July 26.
Many customers are asking about tariffs, said Peter Gardner, vice president of sales and general manager of Daiichi Jitsugyo America, the U.S. distributor of Niigata injection presses from Japan and molding machines from South Korean builder LS Mtron Ltd. Country-of-origin issues can be confusing, since some Japanese and European machines are made in China today, he said.
Gardner said he will take advantage of the low duty of Japanese-made machines, 3.3 percent, and the zero duty on Korean-made presses.
"While some will say it will put Chinese-made machinery at a disadvantage, others may say it will simply level the playing field," Gardner said.
Manufacturing is being hit with a dizzying array of tariffs and growing trade wars, with the China tariff battle, the tariffs on steel and aluminum and potential auto tariffs, plus renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The wide range of opinions about the tariffs on molds from China illustrates how, when it comes to protectionism, every company has its own angle of self-interest.
"My processor clients of course are very concerned, because several of them have tools in China already," consultant Laurie Harbour said. "Mold bases and all are included [in the tariff]. So they are absolutely going to get impacted by it."
Harbour said smaller U.S. mold makers are happy about the tariff move. But larger ones, with operations or partnerships in China, will get hit.
"This 25 percent tariff could theoretically eliminate the cost advantage of going to China," she said.
And Canada, already a formidable competitor to U.S. mold makers, could be a wild card, if China exports tools to Canada to get around the tariffs. Harbour thinks customs officials will require more paperwork certifying the country of origin, significantly adding transactional costs.