Shipments of primary plastics machinery to injection molding and extrusion processors in North America increased in the third quarter, according to the Plastics Industry Association.
The preliminary estimate of shipment value from reporting companies totaled $333.8 million for July through September — up 8.8 percent compared with the same quarter of 2020 and up 4 percent over the second quarter of 2021.
The value of shipments of twin-screw extruders rose 44.4 percent in the third quarter and was 61.2 percent above the third quarter of 2020, the Washington, D.C.-based industry group said in a Dec. 13 report.
Twin-screw extruders produce pipe, profiles and sheet for the infrastructure, home building, packaging and other hot markets. Machine builders introduced several new models, including Lebanon, Ore.-based Entek Manufacturing Inc., which is experiencing record growth and is building another facility and hiring 50 people to handle demand. Entek's customers process natural fiber-plastic composites for products like decking and offer pelletizing, custom compounding, specialty sheet lines, food and medical applications, and plastics recycling.
Extruder builder Krauss-Maffei Corp. in Florence, Ky., saw strong growth in the recycling and construction segments. Brian Bishop, vice president of new machine sales, told Plastics News the cost of the machinery is rarely the customer's top concern.
"In most cases, it was not about price; it was how quickly we could deliver," Bishop said.
Meanwhile, shipments of single-screw extruders were up 15.9 percent from the third quarter of 2020 and 7.2 percent compared with the second quarter of 2021.
Injection molding shipments ticked up 5.7 percent compared with the third quarter of 2020, and 1.6 percent from the second quarter of 2021.
The increases in machinery shipments show the economy continues to emerge from the pandemic, according to Perc Pineda, chief economist for the Plastics Industry Association.
"Moreover, the increase in shipments was consistent with higher plastics production, which in the third quarter rose 4.2 percent or 5.9 percent from a year earlier. The upward-sloping demand for plastics equipment has not changed," Pineda said in a news release.
The trade group's Committee on Equipment Statistics compiles the statistics and conducts a quarterly survey of plastics machinery suppliers that asks about present market conditions and expectations for the future. In the third-quarter survey, 75.5 percent of respondents expect market conditions to either improve or hold steady in the coming quarter, which is lower than the 92.7 percent of respondents who expressed the same view in the second quarter's survey.
As for the next 12 months, 75 percent expect market conditions to be steady to better, which is also down. In the previous quarter's survey, 78.7 percent of respondents anticipated growth in the next year.
"While the survey results show that growth expectations have moderated, it also reveals that plastics machinery suppliers remain optimistic about market conditions four quarters ahead," Pineda said.
Plastics machinery exports are another bright spot, increasing 6.1 percent to $390.2 million from the second quarter with most products shipped to Mexico and Canada. Exports to those two countries totaled $172.6 million and made up 44.2 percent of total plastics machinery exports.
Imports were down 3 percent to $848.4 million, resulting in a $458.3 million trade deficit. The U.S. plastics machinery trade deficit decreased by 9.6 percent in the third quarter.
U.S. trade data in the third quarter is in sync with the improving global trade outlook. Pineda pointed to the World Trade Organization, which expects a 10.8 percent increase in global merchandise trade this year, up from its 8.4 percent projection in March.
All the data confirms the trade group's projections that the outlook for plastics machinery in the second half of 2021 is positive even though shipments will continue to fluctuate.
"The likelihood that supply chain issues will continue to be a headwind in 2022 remains high. The globe is still emerging from the pandemic," Pineda said.