This year was marked by some building expansions by injection press manufacturers. Japan-based Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd. opened its first U.S. assembly operation, a 114,232-square-foot plant near San Antonio, Texas. Ube Machinery Inc. announced a 21,500-square-foot addition at its longtime U.S. headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. Negri Bossi North America moved ahead with its relocation from Delaware to Canton, Mich. And Toshiba Machine Co. America opened a centralized, 60,000-square-foot warehouse in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
In business news, Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. got a new owner to start the year: global investment firm Platinum Equity LLC, founded by Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores.
At NPE2018, executives of Yizumi-HPM Corp. announced the company was building a 15,000-square-foot addition for final assembly space at its North American technical center in Iberia, Ohio. It's a long-term investment, officials said.
The machine components come from China, and the tariffs have caused Chinese companies to raise prices on presses sold in the United States. They had machines in inventory, which were a buffer from the price hikes.
But for new machines coming in from China, Yizumi-HPM has raised prices 7 or 8 percent, said Bill Duff, general manager of sales and marketing. The Chinese parent company has some flexibility to try and reduce the impact of tariffs, with a facility in India and the Ohio assembly operation.
And Duff noted that prices for large castings from China, the major source country, have gone up.
"You can still get them, but you're paying a considerable amount more for your raw materials," he said.
Duff said the automotive slowdown could cause a "little bit of a downturn" for overall U.S. injection press shipments in 2019. After several strong years, large-tonnage machines have softened. "We're seeing strong quote activity, but it's a little troublesome getting the orders," he said.
Yizumi-HPM gets a lot of orders to replace older HPM machines, a legacy fleet still running in large numbers, Duff said.
Hong Kong-based Chen Hsong Holdings Ltd. is back in the U.S. game, as CH-America officially kicked off at NPE2018. CH-America President Ken Heyse said the company raised prices about 8-10 percent.
"We did have to raise them, but we raised them modestly in order to not have the sticker shock to pass on to the customers. We have been able to maintain our margins and increase our volumes without having a large price increase," Heyse said.
Chen Hsong has its own foundries to make castings, which gives it control over the supply chain and cuts press delivery time.
"You have a situation where a lot of people are getting new jobs and molds, and they need a machine," he said.
Heyse said Torrington, Conn.-based CH-America is targeting a wide mix of molders, including automotive, consumer goods and custom molders. "There's a slew of custom molders in this country that survived 2008 and 2009 and are just now upgrading machines, and the machines are 20, 25 years old. And they're eating them alive with electric costs," he said.
Frohring said Absolute Haitian of Worcester, Mass., has been able to limit the tariff impact on U.S. customers of its Chinese-made presses. The company had a lot of inventory when the tariffs hit, then worked out a compromise between the Chinese machinery builder, Absolute Haitian and customers, he said.
Frohring said that, while the automotive-related machinery business has slowed somewhat, Absolute Haitian is working to grow in medical and packaging.
"Overall the business has been strong, but I can see where it's been slowing down," he said.
Milacron ran the largest injection molding machine at NPE2018 — a 2,250-ton Cincinnati press, named after the company's hometown. The company is aiming the Cincinnati at large-tonnage applications, including automotive.
Milacron officials said pending automotive projects continue to require large machines for model changes and new capacity. The aging fleet of dedicated automotive machines remains high, so customers are replacing equipment to remain competitive, the company said.
Sonny Morneault, vice president of sales at Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. in Torrington, Conn., said the automotive downturn will impact new press sales, but he agreed with Milacron's assessment on replacement machines for the sector.
"There is a huge installed base that is over 20 years old that need replacement," he said. "We only do about 30 percent of our business in automotive here in the states, mostly with Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, and they are still growing and investing in new equipment."
Morneault said Wittmann Battenfeld is in a good position going into the new year.
"We have high hopes for 2019. There are several large projects in the queue for 2019 that include new corporate expansion and replacement programs that will utilize the cash from the corporate tax breaks. This, along with strong consumer confidence and wage inflation, means we expect to have a record year here in the U.S. for machine sales," Morneault said.
Ube's Ann Arbor expansion doubles production capacity for assembling large-tonnage injection presses, from 720-3,000 tons. General Manager Koji Watanabe is one executive who is bullish on automotive molding, even though the production drop this year caused customers to slow down machine buying, which he said was an expected development.
"However, there will be new model activity in 2019, and automakers have started to plan expansions and/or replacements. We are hearing active reactions from the automotive sector," he said.
The expansion will help Ube keep pace, after sales increased by about 10 percent this year, as of mid-November. "It indicates that the demand for large machines is constantly increasing," Watanabe said.
Ube, based in Japan, has some assembly plants in China, and buys some parts from China, so the tariffs hurt, but Watanabe said Ube was already looking at options for production.
"Right now, we are considering the best locations for production and are considering multiple resources for production, such as Japan, China and the USA, and also some other countries," he said. "It wasn't only because of tariff issues, but we have been planning to expand U.S. production and it is already moving forward."