The United States may be a superpower militarily, economically, and—as last month’s Olympics showed—athletically. But it’s humbling to see where we fit in the global plastics industry. That thought occurred to me after helping prepare this issue’s preview of K 2004, the biggest plastics show ever, which will take place next month in Dusseldorf, Germany. As you will see from our coverage, there will be heaps of new technology on display at the show. But you’ll find that only a small fraction of those new developments come from the U.S. I suppose that’s not surprising, considering that this is pre-eminently a European show. It’s not NPE, after all. Some 37.5% of the 2849 exhibitors are from Germany alone. Only 122 come from the U.S.—just over 4% of the total, and not many more than from Switzerland. But our news coverage can’t help driving home the fact that we rely so heavily on R&D taking place in Europe and Asia for improvements in processing machinery and even in materials and additives.
One of those European firms put things in perspective. In a report on the global market for injection molding machines, Demag Plastic Group of Germany pegged the North American market for new injection machines at 4700 units in 2003, compared with 10,300 for Europe and 55,000 machines for Asia. For 2007, Demag projects a market of 5300 presses in North America, 10,800 in Europe, and 58,300 in Asia. The size of the Asian market is eye-popping, but the good news is that North America’s share apparently will grow from 6.7% to 7.1% of the total, while the Asian and European shares will shrink by a fraction of a point.