Machine builders have high expectations for big crowds filled with serious buyers as they plan exhibits for plastics processing innovations at NPE2024 following a six-year, pandemic-induced hiatus.
The last time the largest trade show for the North American plastics industry was held was in May 2018, when 56,034 people registered — the largest number since the triennial event moved to Orlando, Fla., in 2012.
Organized by the Plastics Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group, NPE2021 was canceled as COVID-19 cases and deaths spiked about the same time final booth payments were due.
NPE accounts for up to half of the association's revenues. To settle with NPE2021 exhibitors, the trade group gave them nonrefundable credits for NPE2024.
The anticipation has been building ever since.
"NPE has not been held for six years, and that's a long time without an opportunity to really show our U.S. customers the breadth of what Arburg can offer," said Martin Baumann, president and CEO of Arburg Inc. in Rocky Hill, Conn.
"Not everyone can travel to K show, and regional shows don't give us the same chance to put all our new technologies on display."
Arburg will have 14 systems running at NPE, and each will showcase an application that is fully automated, Baumann said.
Officials at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery are hopeful about NPE2024 on the heels of other recent major events with good turnouts. They are planning exhibits for all of their core markets, including some new and future products for North America.
"We closely watched the numbers at K and Fakuma. Both seemed very successful. Most expect this momentum to carry over into our market and signal a strong NPE," said Steven Ross, the senior manager of strategic sales and marketing.
At Bekum America Corp. in Williamston, Mich., Gary Carr, vice president of sales, said: "After six long years, we sense that the blow molding industry is ready for a technology update, and Bekum will be showcasing our latest developments and capabilities with no reduction in booth size or exhibit scope."
Bekum will demonstrate its range of extrusion blow molding technology from small pharma ampules to large storage containers and tanks, including "the industry's first U.S.-manufactured all-electric extrusion blow molding machine," Carr added.
Lebanon, Ore.-based Entek Manufacturing Inc. will highlight its recently acquired material handling division, its recently formed wear parts division, its newest twin-screw extruder, patented vacuum feed technology for higher material throughput and patent-pending vent flow sensors for safety.
"We hope to reconnect with our existing customers as well as meet new connections for future business," said Linda Campbell, Entek's vice president of sales. "We recognize that there are many people who have joined the plastics industry since the last show in 2018, and we are excited to meet them and learn about their challenges."
So is Ross, who said: "With a six-year gap, we are among most companies that are expecting a very large turnout. We are also expecting a higher level of first-time attendees due to the larger turnover in staffing over the six-year span."
Wittmann USA is planning a full rollout of equipment and customer events, but Sonny Morneault, vice president of sales, said it's too early to give details.
"Our goal is to show the plastics industry that we are the leader in the growth of innovation and what its positive impact can have on the environment, the economy and our everyday lives," Morneault said.
With processors facing many challenges — from using more recycled content in their products to using less energy in their factories — the halls of the Orange County Convention Center are expected to be filled May 6-10.
Machine shoppers from all over the world, particularly Latin America, are planning meetups with machine builders from all over the world.
"With more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space already sold out, our expectations are that this may be one of the best attended shows ever," said Nolan Strall, president of North America for Krauss-Maffei Corp., part of KraussMaffei Group. "Every plastics processing equipment manufacturer, automation manufacturer and auxiliary suppliers will be in attendance, plus business owners, current and future customers, plant managers, injection molding operators and technicians, purchasing and more."
The staff of Boy is bringing six machines — a new 60E Hybrid and the new XSE — to display along with "hope for record attendance," President Marko Koorneef said.
The overall record for the event, which dates to 1946, remains NPE2000 in Chicago, which drew about 90,000 registered attendees, although observers don't believe that was matched by actual attendance.
The Engel staff is looking forward to this year's showcase, President Vanessa Malena sad.
"We are very interested to see changes in the demographics and the needs of the attendees. It has been a long time since the last show. We are prepared for questions concerning sustainability and digitalization, or what services we can offer to work around labor shortages," she said.
Milacron Advanced Systems General Manager Andy Stirn agreed.
"We anticipate a big increase in attendance for the show, but we think the faces will be a bit different than what we've seen in the past," he said. "We anticipate a newer industry face with a younger demographic than past shows, as there has been a shift in the workforce. In addition, we anticipate more women this year, as females are breaking the mold!"
For all kinds of processors, NPE is a good time for comparison machine shopping.
"This is the big event," Absolute Haitian President Glenn Frohring said. "The week goes by fast for me. We look forward to showing our technology to people who are also seeing our competitors to make conscientious decisions. It can only be a great thing."
At R&B Plastics Machinery LLC in Saline, Mich., President and General Manager Fred Piercy expects a well-attended show "unless something comes out of left field."
"We're a somewhat new entrant in the blow molding machine market, and we're hoping to get exposure to different customers," Piercy said. "For us, it's an opportunity to show what we have to offer to this market in particular. We're continuing to push the accumulator head side of our market on the blow molding end."
Still, not all machine makers are on board with NPE from the start. Officials at Kautex Machines Inc. in Flemington, N.J., were mulling the event into November.
"Our participation in the NPE is still under evaluation, but what we can confirm is that regardless of our decision, we will introduce in that time frame a new machine model that will further improve the key cost drivers of applications we are targeting. More we cannot share today," said Manuel Heusinger, vice president of sales and service Americas.