Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH reported 2018 sales of 425 million euros ($511 million), an increase close to 6 percent in 2017, but company officials saw the first signs that orders are slowing, and a top executive said broader political and economic uncertainties are starting to hit the machinery sector.
What executives described as "excellent order income" for the first half of the year was followed by a decline in the second half, especially in November and December.
Overall , the company started 2018 with a good order backlog, but Michael Wittmann, managing director and CEO of Wittmann Battenfeld, said 2019 started with an order income on par with 2016 levels.
"Innumerable political and economic uncertainties and discussions now finally have a lasting effect on the investment behavior in our industry, slowing it down," Wittmann said in a news release announcing the results. "We were fully aware of the fact that the incredible succession of record results over the last 10 years would eventually come to an end. The slowdown has now just started in the last quarter of 2018. We expect that the year 2019 will continue on the current level."
Michael Wittmann called the 2018 sales gain "extremely satisfactory." The company's workforce of 2,415 was above the level of 2017.
The Kottingbrunn, Austria-based company makes injection molding machines, robots and auxiliary equipment.
Wittmann Battenfeld is not the only plastics machinery manufacturer to say political tensions have begun to impact the business. In Milacron Holdings Corp.'s first quarter conference call on April 30, CEO Tom Goeke said tariffs and global trade tensions hit financial results in the second half of 2018. He told financial analysts the headwinds continued in the first quarter of 2019.
For Wittmann Battenfeld, 2018 was also marked by expansion: The company added 23,680 square feet to its production area in Kottingbrunn, in addition to building new office space and a new lab for research and development. Wittmann Battenfeld also expanded facilities in Nuremburg, Germany, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Italy. The machinery maker moved into a new and larger building in France at the end of April.
It also made technological advances. The group acquired a stake in the Italian MES producer ICE-flex, securing the know-how needed for a further smooth integration of 4.0 technologies into the TEMI+ modular manufacturing execution system. The year also saw the introduction of the new VPower vertical machine press, an expansion of the robot line, and the new S-Max screenless granulator.