Tea Leaves Point to Growth, Greater Connectivity in Manufacturing in 2015

By: Tony Deligio 6. January 2015

Apart from college football bowl games and resolutions, few things are as synonymous with the New Year as predictions. Below I’ve linked to some prognostications for the manufacturing sector over the coming year, many of which foreshadow similar story lines.


Back in September, I wrote about the ARC Advisory Group’s efforts to map manufacturing’s future through 2050, let alone the next 12 months, where the concept of broader connectivity and “information-driven” manufacturing were key elements.


On Dec. 5, International Data Corp. (IDC) released its worldwide manufacturing predictions for 2015, which pointed to the data-driven factory foretold by ARC. Simon Ellis, practice director IDC Manufacturing Insights, talked about “ubiquitous connectivity and data-driven insights” in the report, which included some specific forecasts.


  • By 2017, manufacturers will actively channel 25% of their IT budgets through industry clouds that enable seamless and flexible collaboration models.
  • In 2015, product quality, including compliance, will underpin two thirds of all IT application investments across the manufacturing organization.
  • In 2015, 65% of companies with more than 10 plants will enable the factory floor to make better decisions through investments in operational intelligence.
  • Investments that enable digitally executed manufacturing will increase 50% by the end of 2017, as manufacturers seek to be more agile in the marketplace.


Laura D. Reilly of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute had six predictions for manufacturing in 2015, with two specifically focused on technology bettering plant floor output. In addition to ongoing reshoring, a manufacturing boom, increased capital investment, and sector growth that would outstrip GDP’s, Reilly talked about big data and predictive maintenance.


Big data will drive big efficiency: Sensor technologies will drive the concept of connected factories, and will fuel the introduction of mobility-based manufacturing. Web browsers will be used as dashboards to control equipment, identify snags, and make quick decisions that would have previously taken entire teams of people to handle. As connected factories go online, myriad amounts of data will be collected. But 2015 will see that data put to use in a smarter way that makes things operate more efficiently.


Increased investments in predictive maintenance technologies: The proliferation of better and cheaper sensor technologies combined with the trend of connected factories will allow for greater opportunity to implement predictive maintenance technologies that will cut downtime and boost bottom lines.


Boom…Renaissance…Bounce Back
In terms of manufacturing’s predicted performance in 2015, the forecasts are downright rosy. For her part, Reilly sees a “manufacturing boom” in the U.S. saying the sector can “reasonably expect between 4% and 5% growth” with “a new wave of domestic manufacturing” launching in 2015. As part of this wave, Reilly also forecasts the “replacement of aging legacy equipment and investment in new capital equipment that performs better, more efficiently and more reliably.”


Plastics Technology’s Jim Callari and Steve Kline recently tackled the capital spending outlook for plastics (full article here).


PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) sees a “bounce back” for the U.S. in 2015. While China slows and Europe adopts quantitative easing, India is expected to turn the corner and sub-Saharan Africa’s expansion will outpace global growth.


In our main scenario we are projecting the US economy to grow by more than 3% in 2015, the fastest growth rate since 2005. We still expect China to make the biggest contribution to global growth in 2015. However, its projected growth rate of 7.2% would be its slowest since 1990 and its high debt levels pose some downside risks to that main scenario.


Daniel J. Meckstroth, vice president and chief economist as well as council director of the MAPI Purchasing Council, is calling for an acceleration in manufacturing’s growth in 2015, fueled by housing (and subsequently appliances), as well as automotive. Meckstroth, who believes manufacturing growth will outpace that of the overall economy, forecasts that in 2015:


  • Auto sales will increase 3%
  • Housing starts will jump 29%
  • Manufacturing production will grow 4%


The quote, “Never make predictions, especially about the future,” which is attributed to baseball great Casey Stengel, is sage advice, and while it is impossible to know everything that will happen over the next 12 months (I mean, who saw the polar vortex coming last year), manufacturing is starting the year from a very good place. 

SPE’s Detroit Section Plays Santa Molding and Donating Toys

By: Tony Deligio 17. December 2014

Started in 1999 and now in its 15th year, the program has delivered more than a half million toys over its lifetime to a variety of Detroit-area charities. Dawn Cooper of South, Lyon, Mich.-based material supplier Uniplas has worked with the program for the last four years, taking over for Don Root, Uniplas’s founder and former board member of the SPE Detroit Section that kicked off the toy-donation program 15 years ago.


Cooper said this year donations came from Chevron Phillips Chemical (12,000 lb of PE), Maple Press (custom labels),  and E.L. Hollingsworth (transportation), with American Plastic Toys, a Michigan-based toy producer, donating two weeks of production time, as well as assembly and packaging, to create this year’s toy: a small bus.


Minus metal axels, all parts for the more than 30,000 buses were injection molded plastics, including four tires, four hub caps, and one body piece that snap fit together. The Detroit Police Department’s Sergeant Santa program received about 10,100 toys this year, with the remainder going to the local United Way chapter.


Back in 1999, all the donated toys, which have included various cars, trucks, jeeps, and buses over the years, went to Toys for Tots. Since then they had been split between the United Way and Lion’s Club, with 2014 being the first year the program worked with the Detroit Police Department.


Ongoing for 15 years with more than a half of million toys distributed throughout the area, the program’s reach has grown quite long. Visiting an American Legion Post recently, Cooper spied a former donated toy on the shelf which had found its way there via a program to donate gifts to needy veterans.


This year unlike year’s past, Cooper had the opportunity to be on hand when the toys were delivered. “I was able to be there when the toys were delivered and picked up,” Cooper said. “It’s actually quite heartwarming as opposed to dropping it off at a warehouse—this year was kind of special.”


Here’s to many more special years for the unique program and its participants (pictured below, Detroit Police Department with the delivered toys).

U.S. Plastics Sector Stars in Lackluster Global Economy

By: Tony Deligio 17. December 2014

The sustainability of that performance disparity was one topic tackled in a recent SPI webinar, which highlighted results from the association’s newest Global Trend Report.


In addition to a breakdown of the report’s finding by Michael Taylor, SPI’s International Affairs Director, the webinar included insights on the broader manufacturing environment by Cliff Waldman, director of economic studies at the MAPI Foundation, and a reshoring recap from Harry Moser of The Reshoring Initiative.


Where’s the Mojo?
The global economy is recouping from the economic shock of the Great Recession, but doing so on an uneven basis and without the vigor of previous recoveries.

“We have a world that lacks mojo,” Waldman explained. “Worldwide there is a dearth of the type of risk taking that is often the difference between sluggish growth and normal growth.”


Waldman acknowledged that “the U.S. is the only major economy that truly is looking better,” before asking, “the question is: will global economy bring it down?”


Plastics Power On
SPI noted that its data showed overall demand for plastics remains strong, with the U.S. holding significant market share over imports. “The U.S. plastics industry is healthy and getting healthier,” is how SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux summed up the state of the sector ahead of its largest show.


Consumption increased 6.5%, while exports of raw materials continued to show gains and the resin trade surplus grew. Overall exports rose 2.7%, minus machinery, but SPI expects a stronger equipment performance in 2015, with a bump from its triennial event, NPE2015.  


Taylor noted that of the sectors with the largest net employment gains in 2014, plastics was No. 3, behind only fabricated metal and transportation equipment, creating more than 4000 net jobs.


Plastics also ranked high in production growth, trailing only furniture from October 2013 to October 2014. Plastics as a U.S. manufacturing sector has long enjoyed overall growth, according to Taylor, with plastics manufacturing employment up since 1980, while the value of manufactured shipments has grown 2.3% per year since that time.


Balancing Trade
Industry exports rose 2.7%, while imports rose 5.8%. Mexico and Canada remain the largest export markets for the U.S. plastics industry, followed by China, Belgium and Brazil. Overall, the industry ended up with a positive trade balance, despite a trade deficit of $1.4 billion in machinery. The largest deficit was still with China, although it was smaller.


In terms of market share, domestically, resin held steady at 79.6%, while products (84.4%) and machinery (36.6%) saw their domestic segment increase. The U.S. market share for molds, however, shrunk to 54.7%.


Top Emerging Markets
The top growth markets for U.S. plastics exports in terms of percentage gains were Ukraine, Oman, Indonesia, Nigeria and Algeria. Going back to 2000, the top growth markets show some overlap with that group, as well as new players with Ukraine, Algeria, Vietnam, Ghana, and Nigeria.  


Asked about the growing trade deficit in finished goods, Taylor stressed the overall trade surplus for the sector. “Our largest trade deficit, with China, actually decreased,” Taylor said, “and we hope continue to go in right direction. Whether we will every get out of a deficit with a trading partner like China, that’s not really possible.”


Moser sounded a hopeful tone on China, at least in terms of reshoring. Noting that China’s unit labor costs have gone up 400% since 2000, Moser, who often caps presentations with an image of the little Dutch boy trying to plug the leaky dike, revealed data showing what may already be a fully functioning seawall.


As opposed to 2003, when U.S. manufacturing was losing 148,000 jobs per year to offshoring, the balance of jobs reshored and offshored in 2013, was net zero. Next year, the tide is anticipated to shift, with a net gain in manufacturing jobs. “About 60% of the reshoring has been from China,” Moser said, noting that the country is “showing a lot of vulnerability.”


Getting the Mojo Back
So what would it take for a tepid U.S. recovery to become a full-fledged global growth cycle: reinvigorated entrepreneurship. “I think we need to encourage entrepreneurship,” Waldman said. “There currently are two kinds of risk-taking that U.S. and the  world are short of: one is capital investment, and two, we’re very weak on business start ups, and that’s really why we’ve had such a slow labor market turn. We need to do the things that encourage business start ups, create more of the entrepreneurial environment of ‘80s and ‘90s.”

A Birthday for the Web; A Survey for Our Readers

By: Tony Deligio 10. December 2014

Slipped my calendar too, but whether or not people marked the occasion, the global digital consortium launched by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 to help share information continues to turn entire industries on their heads, including the worlds of publishing and manufacturing that Plastics Technology straddles.


To better understand the web’s influence, as well as how our readers seek, consume and share information vital to their day-to-day jobs, Plastics Technology’s publisher, Gardner Business Media Inc., is once again undertaking its annual Media Usage Survey. Sent to readers across Gardner’s publication portfolio, the survey, which is entering its fifth year, is the largest study exploring media usage and buyer behavior in discrete parts manufacturing.


A Growing Web
The Pew Research Center marked the Web’s 25th birthday with a survey of its own. The most striking finding was the mass adoption of the Internet, rising from 14% of American adults in 1995 to 87% this year, with higher usage of 97% among young adults (age 18-29) and people with college degrees.


In last year’s media usage survey, Gardner’s poll of manufacturing professionals reflected different engagement trends when it comes to seeking job-related information. Asked how they preferred to receive trade publication content, 58% chose a print magazine, followed by digital magazines (20%), email newsletters (14%), and websites (8%). Of those respondents, 93% had purchasing influence, whether that was approving, recommending or specifying a purchase, and 60% were 50 years or older.


Staying Power
A quarter century is a momentous anniversary for the Web, but it also highlights the relative infancy of the medium. The first magazine is believed to have been published  351 years ago in Germany; 121 years ago in November, what some consider the first trade magazine, Billboard, was launched. June marked the 86th birthday of Modern Machine Shop, sister publication to Plastics Technology, and the periodical that launched Gardner.


Help us shape the next century of media usage in manufacturing; take the survey today and let us know about your about consumption habits so we can better serve you in the years to come. 

Mexico’s Auto Market Accelerates, Brings Plastics Along for the Ride

By: Tony Deligio 3. December 2014

That’s understandable when you consider the explosion of activity in the sector in recent months and read related coverage. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported the country’s ascension in the global ranks of vehicle production as it overcame a Latin American competitor: “Mexico's Auto Industry Overtakes Brazil's.”


Mexico's export-driven production of cars and light trucks jumped 7.5% in the first seven months of 2014 to nearly 1.86 million vehicles, compared to the same period a year earlier.


That story noted how Honda and Mazda started up assembly plants this year, with a new Audi site to come online in in 2015, while a joint Nissan and Daimler facility is in the works. A September report from Forbes was more to the point:  “America's Car Capital Will Soon Be ... Mexico”.


That article cited Mexico’s free trade agreements (FTA) with 44 countries as a major impetus for its boom (the vast majority of the country’s vehicle production is exported beyond Mexico’s shores), and it noted recent investment announcements by Infiniti in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, as well as BMW and a massive Hyundai-Kia factory in the works.


By 2020, Mexico should be number six [in auto production] behind China, the U.S., Japan, India and Germany with an annual production of 4.7 million vehicles.


This summer, Kia and BMW announced plans for $1 billion plants in Mexico, and in September, Forbes reported that Toyota was looking to add a full assembly plant in Mexico, its first in the country.


A McClatchy report also cited Mexico’s openness to trade as a key driver, but it placed the number of FTAs at 45:


There’s another key factor. President Enrique Pena Nieto, in announcing in August that the South Korean automaker Kia would build a $1 billion plant outside Monterrey, noted that Mexico has free-trade agreements with 45 nations. The United States, in contrast, has free-trade accords in force with only 20 countries. Brazil has only eight free-trade agreements.

Regardless of what prompted the OEMs to set up assembly plants, where they go, their suppliers follow, and where their suppliers go, they need to install new machines.


“We see market growth, especially in automotive and packaging,” Imre Szerdahelyi, head of corporate communications and marketing at KraussMaffei told Plastics Technology. In addition to a Netstal machine running a closure at its stand, the company exhibited an automotive component applying its FiberForm technology.


Mold component supplier DME noted that overall business was down slightly, although the fourth quarter seemed to be finishing strong, with automotive leading the way.


For injection molding machine supplier Haitian, which is represented in Mexico by China Plastic Machinery, automotive takes up the majority of its sales in terms of dollar value. José Antonio Barroso, general manager of China Plastic Machinery noted that when Japanese car makers come to Mexico, for instance, they arrive with 20 to 25 suppliers, and set up a manufacturing campus, to his company’s benefit.


“Fortunately, all machines were sold during exhibition,” Barroso said following Plastimagen. “Right now, the market is really hot.” In response to the market’s success, Barroso said Haitian will be increasing machinery inventory in country for immediate delivery.


For Japanese injection molding machine supplier JSW, automotive represents the biggest growth market, followed by containers, according to Charles Greenwell, Western Regional Sales Manager. Bill Hricsina, international business manager for auxiliaries supplier Conair called automotive “huge” for his company, with additional growth in medical and packaging.


WittmannBattenfeld showed its faith in the market with the show’s largest booth, covering approximately 450 square meters and featuring its full slate of offerings, including auxiliaries, robots and injection molding machines. Matt McCabe, international key account manager, sees a big push for automation in the sector, with automotive customers targeting larger machines like its Macro line that can be complemented by bigger robots. German OEMs, and their suppliers, are boosting the Austrian headquartered equipment supplier, according to McCabe, with his company anticipating 5 to 7 years of “steady, continued growth” in the country.


Guillermo Fasterling, general manager of injection molding machine supplier Arburg’s Mexican operation said that automotive makes up 50% of the German company’s business in country, with Mexico showing growth of 10 to 20% over the last three to four years. “Mexico’s automotive industry has seen very strong growth,” Fasterling said.


At Japanese injection molding machine supplier Nissei, the goal in the coming year is to sell more machines into the automotive sector, according to Patricia Murakami. To that end, the company showed an 80-ton hybrid press molding a seat-belt cover from ABS at Plastimagen. “Our main market was housewares,” Murakami said, “but for last three years, automotive and mobile phone accessories are growing faster.”

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