Machine builders have been busy meeting increased demand amid a pandemic that poses unprecedented challenges but has brought many new opportunities.
Shipments of primary plastics machinery from reporting companies to U.S. injection molders and extruders reached a value of $306.7 million in the third quarter, which is 4.6 percent higher than the same period in 2019, according to Plastics Industry Association's committee on equipment statistics.
Compared with the second quarter of 2020, when the spread of COVID-19 brought much of the world to a halt, the shipments value of primary machinery jumped 15.8 percent.
For single- and twin-screw extruders, the value of shipments grew 27.4 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, in the third quarter vs. the second quarter. Shipments of injection molding equipment were up 15 percent sequentially and 7.9 percent above the third quarter last year.
Perc Pineda, chief economist for the Washington-based trade association, said the quarterly 2020 numbers reflect more than the machine builders' rapid response to soaring demand from consumer products that protect health.
"The double-digit increases in the third quarter are in sync with the quicker-than-expected turnaround in other plastics end markets in addition to health care and consumer essentials," Pineda said in a news release. "Most likely, shipments of machinery will also increase in the final quarter of 2020 as the economy continues to recover."
The committee also surveys plastics machinery suppliers every quarter about present market conditions and expectations. In the coming quarter, 76 percent of respondents expect conditions to either improve or hold steady compared with a year ago. That's a sharp rise from the second quarter, when only 36 percent of respondents felt similarly.
As for the next 12 months, 89.8 percent expect market conditions to be steady-to-better, which is significantly above the 48 percent in the previous quarter's survey.
"It appears that the second quarter was the trough of the business cycle, as the economy slowed due to the pandemic," Pineda said. "Recent data point to an industry that's moving towards the pre-COVID-19 level of activity. The industrial production index on plastics products manufacturing rose for five consecutive months through September."
The plastics industry is essential and businesses stayed open to ensure uninterrupted supply for products in the health care sector, Pineda added.
"The pace of economic recovery, however, is not without risks, and its path will depend to a great extent on the containment of the coronavirus," he said. "Nevertheless, the overall outlook for plastics machinery and the industry has turned more favorable in recent months."