Munich-based KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH shook off an unusual problem — a cyberattack that impacted first-quarter business operations — to have a decent year, said Sven Schewe, director of injection molding machinery sales for the Americas.
Schewe said demand is off for standard injection presses, but he said KraussMaffei's highly engineered machinery, sometimes custom made for special molding jobs, have held up. And he said the company's large-tonnage machines — 1,300 tons and bigger — are fairly stable.
"It's more on the small machine market that we really see the reason for not reaching the numbers of 2018 and 2017," he said.
Medical is KraussMaffei's biggest growth area for 2019, Schewe said. In the U.S., the company has had strong growth from smaller and midsized molders, he added.
David Preusse said the U.S. division of Austria's Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH had a "super year," citing a stronger U.S. dollar and not having to shell out additional money for an NPE show in 2019.
"We had an extraordinary volume of micromolding machine systems in innovative medical projects, a great year in molding machines and, while robots fell slightly, our downstream automation systems were up," said Preusse, president of Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. in Torrington, Conn. "We were profitable, our backlog is excellent and our opportunities are bountiful."
Ube Machinery Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., is bracing for lower 2019 sales because of fewer automotive model launches, said Masashi Kawata, general manager.
The company will try and stock the MMX two-platen servo-hydraulic presses to cut down delivery times to American customers, he said.
Kawata said several customers are expanding existing facilities or adding new locations and have budgeted the purchase of new injection presses in the next few years. But he said automotive will remain a challenge.
"We do believe the car market may be shrinking, especially midsize sedans, and that automotive suppliers are covering the decrease in sedan sales with SUVs and pickup trucks. This trend has caused new machine sales to continuously drop," Kawata said.
Boy Machines Inc., which makes smaller machines, is not heavily into automotive, but Marko Koorneef, president of the operation in Exton, Pa., said other sectors also have invested in new machinery in the last couple of years.
"This is the year that they're not investing because they're running their models," he said.
Medical remains strong for Boy, which offers machines for liquid silicone rubber.
Koorneef said U.S. manufacturing is far from a recession.
"I think manufacturing is still up, and it's going to stay up. Capacity's still being added. Wealth is still being created. Customers are busy," he said.
Even so, press makers see delays.
"They don't want to jump in with two feet first. They're holding off to be absolutely sure when they're going to invest," Koorneef said. "But in the end, they're going to invest."
"Surprise is always in the playbook," said Dave Fung, president of L.K. Systems Inc.
The company is shifting focus to other export markets outside of the United States because of the uncertainties, he said.
Fung also advised thinking ahead: "To prepare for the unexpected is always a 'positive' thinking in the fast-changing economy."
Maruka USA Inc., which sells Toyo injection presses, did see a "slight slowdown" in 2019, said Kevin Bruce, vice president of sales.
"However, it was not to the level reported by industry sources for other manufacturers," he explained. "I believe a reason for this is a large part of our Toyo customers are in the medical field, and that segment of the market did not see as much as a pullback as the others."
CH-America, which kicked off sales of presses made by Chen Hsong Holdings Ltd. at NPE2018, has added service technicians in North Carolina and Tennessee, and opened an office in Detroit — Detroit? Home of the "not buying presses" automotive industry?
CH-America has broken into automotive, said President Ken Heyse. "But we would not experience a slowdown in the classic sense because we're growing into our place in the market," he said.
Other good U.S. markets for Chen Hsong presses are custom molders, medical and packaging — and even large agricultural bins, garbage cans and pallets, Heyse said.
Korbinian Kiesl, president and CEO of French injection press maker Billion SAS, thinks the U.S. automotive market has a need for midsized machines instead of big presses.
"There's still a focus on streamlining manufacturing, getting new products in and lowering manufacturing costs with new equipment. I think this will be quite good next year for the automotive industry," he said.
Dutch press builder Stork Plastics Machinery BV is mainly a European supplier, so the U.S. offers a growth market, especially in high-end packaging, according to Benjamin Sutch, managing partner of Chudleigh Sutch UK Ltd., Stork's distributor for North and South America.
"The U.S. market is a great place to be selling large-tonnage injection molding machines for packaging applications. So, for us, it's just about the best place that we could be looking to grow and expand into," Sutch said.
BMB North America, part of the Italian press maker BMB SpA, enjoyed a "very good year," said David Brown, area sales manager for the operation in Mississauga, Ontario.
"We do some in automotive, but not a lot. It's a very, very small percentage," Brown said. "If automotive goes down or up, it doesn't really affect us significantly. The markets that we prefer to play in, like packaging and medical, consumer products and the likes of that, and that's staying pretty steady."
Brown said the company is looking forward to a "good 2020," citing growth potential in the U.S. and Canada, where BMB is still fairly new. As for this year's headwinds, he said he views 2019 as the year "the whole uncertainty thing got baked in."
"It was a shock in the beginning back in 2018, maybe even a little earlier with the tariffs and the potential trade war with China, etc. … And so I think in 2019, it got baked in," he said. "And then in 2020, I think it's just going to be the status quo. That's just the way it is."