Steady business drove the U.S. market for compounding extruders in 2018, machinery officials said, now that big cyclical ups and downs are a thing of the past.
"The last five years have been pretty consistent," said Charlie Martin, president and general manager of Leistritz Extrusion in Somerville, N.J.
A slowing automotive sector is giving some compounding extruder makers pause going into the new year. But the sector is diversified enough that the general outlook is positive, machinery officials said.
Bob Urtel said automotive is an important market for Century Extrusion in Traverse City, Mich. The company also has some projects in the housing sector. Powder coatings is a strong market. And machines sold to general compounding have held up, he said.
Urtel, the company president, said Century Extrusion had predicted big growth in 2018 and ended up beating its budget by 11 percent. He said, "2018 was really a top year, and I think 2019 will hold pretty well with 2018."
Turnkey sales "continues to have legs," Urtel said, "especially with the bigger players. Essentially they want to write a check and get pounds." On the smaller side, laboratory lines are grabbing customer interest, he said.
"People are spending money on their production capacity now and thinking about the future," Urtel said.
Century Extrusion also launched a skilled trades program to foster the next generation of employees.
Leistritz Extrusion serves automotive, but the company is shielded from an auto downturn, Martin said.
"I think the key to our long-term success is we've diversified. We're in eight to 10 distinct markets, so one's up, the other might be down," he said.
One area of strength is direct extrusion for pharmaceuticals, after years of effort by Leistritz to hold educational sessions in Somerville.
"That's now a recognized and embraced technology," Martin said.
But the market for compounding machines to make filaments and pellets for 3D printing has slowed down, he said.
Overall, Martin said, business has been "slow and steady" in 2018.
Steady seems to be the buzzword of the year for the U.S. market, according to executives at several compounding extruder manufacturers.
"Last year, 2017, was a very good year for us. I would say there's been no big ups and downs [this year]. I think the last five years have been pretty steady," said Mike Millsaps, chief operations officer at Steer America Inc. in Uniontown, Ohio.
For Steer America, strong markets right now include composites and bioresins.
"We're seeing dividends pay off for low-shear, low-temperature," machines that Steer specializes in, Millsaps said. "I've also see a lot of interest in fluoropolymer lines."
Linda Campbell, director of sales at Entek Manufacturing, said the company in Lebanon, Ore., "had a great year last year, and this year was another good year."
Campbell said 2018 had no dips in sales.
"I've not seen huge amounts of growth, but we certainly have not receded at all," she said.
But she said the business mix has changed for Entek, from a lot of quick-change, smaller-batch extruders in 2017 to big machines.
"What was nice about this year is we had a lot more of our larger units in our sales cycle. Everything from the 53 millimeter and above seemed to be popular, including 103 millimeter, which is one of our most popular models," Campbell said.
She said packaging is Entek's strongest market right now.