Injection molding machine sales started the year on a high note with momentum from an exceptional 2021 continuing to buoy capital investments by plastics processors.
Press producers sold an estimated 5,000 units last year, which was an increase of 25 percent from the 4,000 presses sold in 2020. For a few months, it looked like 2022 could be a repeat. However, the second half of 2022 brought a marked change.
Engel North America in York, Pa., has seen a decline in incoming orders since August, according to Stefan Engleder, CEO of parent company Engel Austria GmbH.
"This is mainly attributed to the construction and infrastructure industries. Compared with this, automotive is still performing well globally. Engel is gearing up for a further decline in demand, although we are optimistic for the medium- and long-term outlook. Plastic processing remains a growth market," Engleder said in an email.
Injection molding machine builders expect a 10-20 percent drop in units shipped in 2022. Several cited the midpoint of 15 percent, which would be a decrease of 750 molding machines to an estimated 4,250 units for the year.
The estimate is based on Plastics News industry interviews and story archives. The Plastics Industry Association trade group crunches other data about North American machine shipments but only shares it with its paid members.
The trade group did report that shipments of primary plastics machinery for injection molding and extrusion slowed in North America in the third quarter. The preliminary estimate of shipment value from reporting companies totaled $353.8 million, which was a decrease of 14.4 percent from the previous quarter but an estimated increase of 6 percent from a year earlier.
Also, historically, there is a bump up in shipments in the fourth quarter.
To date, 2022 was strong to the middle of the year then also slowed for Rocky Hill, Conn.-based Arburg Inc., a subsidiary of Germany's Arburg GmbH + Co KG.
"As the COVID crisis has subsided, many companies — especially in medical — have found that production capacity that they built up in 2020 and 2021 can be reallocated," Arburg Inc. President Friedrich Kanz said. "So, there is now a certain consolidation going on, and sales volumes are returning to more normal levels."
Overall, the market is still very active and the plastics industry is in good shape, Kanz added.
At Absolute Haitian, sales are more in line with 2019 or 2020 than the record year the company enjoyed in 2021.
"This should be similar for many injection molding machine manufacturers in the U.S.," said Glenn Frohring, an owner of the Worcester, Mass.-based company that sells injection molding presses made in China by Haitian Plastics Machinery Ltd.
Haitian, the world's largest press builder, reported in March that it sold more than 56,000 machines in 2021. Sales climbed 35.7 percent to a record $2.5 billion following strong global demand in the first half of the year and stability in the second half.
Last year also brought a record new order rate for Wittmann USA Inc., formerly Wittmann Battenfeld Inc., in Torrington, Conn., and the machine builder is sitting on a record order backlog, according to President David Preusse.
But, unlike 2021, this year has not been strong and stable.
"As is the case with many global markets, the U.S. plastics industry is recording a 15- to 20-plus percent reduction of new orders in 2022," Preusse said. "Many shipments pushed over to this year, so revenues are still okay, just impacted for supply chain delays."
At Boy Machines Inc. in Exton, Pa., sales have slowed down by about 20 percent, President Marko Koorneef said.
Meanwhile, at Batesville, Ind.-based Hillenbrand Inc., sales for the Molding Technology Solutions business unit, which includes plastics machinery manufacturer Milacron, increased 6 percent to $276 million compared with last year. The increase was driven by higher volume and higher prices. However, order volume slowed in the fourth quarter due to delays in customer decisions.
"Our Molding Technology Solutions segment had annual revenue and margin expansion that came in near the high end of our expectations. And while we did see a slowdown in orders in the fourth quarter, largely due to the rise in global macro uncertainty, we are entering fiscal 2023 with a strong backlog," CEO Kim Ryan said in a Nov. 17 quarterly call.
Tony Marchelletta, national sales manager for Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, said, "The overall IMM market is definitely declining. However, we're fortunate to be aligned with customers and markets that are not easily impacted by the current economic challenges. Current projects and demand from newer projects have remained steady year over year."
LS Mtron machine shipments to the U.S. "remain steady and similar to 2021," according to Peter Gardner, business director of LS Mtron Injection Molding Machine USA.
At Nissei America Inc. in San Antonio, sales were up 3 percent on a unit base and 15 percent on a dollar base, according to President Junichi Kubota.
"We have been keeping up with this high pace," Kubota added.
At Krauss-Maffei Corp. in Florence, Ky., Sales Director Martin Stojkovic said he has seen "a steady increase in growth" with the hottest markets being logistics, packaging and medical.
In Elk Grove Village, Ill., at Plustech Inc., the North American base of Sodick Co. Ltd.'s injection molding machinery division, National Sales Manager Len Hampton said the businesses experienced record sales the last two years and 2022 is poised to top those numbers.
"We're going to finish strong," Hampton said. "This could ultimately mean there may be a problem for the industry in a few years with all those machines out there."