For manufacturers of blow molding machines, the U.S. market in 2019 was a mixed bag, as some officials reported business was solid and others reported customers holding onto their wallets longer before making capital investments.
And 2020 is a wild card, an election year that follows several strong years of machinery sales, they said.
The ongoing rise of energy-sipping all-electric and hybrid blow molding presses is giving some "green-cred" to blow molding machinery builders. And even the war on single-use plastics is an opportunity for machinery and material technology for PET and polyethylene, they said.
Meanwhile, the boom in hydraulic fracturing of gas means industry officials say prices of polyolefins should remain stable or even go down — giving a big boost to the U.S. blow molding sector, both consumer and industrial.
In business news, new ownership at Uniloy was the biggest blow molding story of 2019. In May, private equity firms Osgood Capital Group LLC and Cyprion Investment Partners LLC bought Uniloy from Milacron Holdings Corp. About a week after the deal was completed, Milacron itself was purchased by Hillenbrand Inc.
Tom MacDonald, vice president of operations at Uniloy Inc., said the company has set up an aftermarket warehouse and production warehouse for subassemblies to support its blow molding machines at the headquarters in Tecumseh, Mich. The next step will be moving the machinery manufacturing to Tecumseh from Milacron's assembly plant in Batavia, Ohio, starting with reciprocating screw machines, he said. Other types of blow molding machines will follow, including shuttle, injection blow, accumulator-head machines and parison-transfer equipment.
Uniloy President and CEO Brian Marston said the company has recorded nearly double-digit growth on machinery and mold sales. Uniloy officials did see a pause in business through the summer months, but overall, he said, "our sales have been pretty strong though 2019" even with the change in ownership.
Backlog going into 2020 is about 20 percent ahead of the year before. Even so, Marston said the coming year comes with some question marks, like environmental challenges and political headlines.
"Our customers are having some challenges with investing," he said. "So I'm concerned that in the election year, we might slow down."