Respondents to annual study report an uptick in buying plans, with more investment in new equipment.

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Compared with recent years, our 2012 Plastics Processing Capital Spending Survey & Forecast shows an increase in investment in new equipment and somewhat less in used and rebuilt

Each year the corporate parent of Plastics Technology, Gardner Publications Inc., conducts a capital spending survey of its audience—in our case, North American plastics processors—to gauge whether subscribers will be investing in new technology in the coming year, and if so, on what technology. This year’s study of the subscribers of this magazine was quite telling and a cause for general optimism for the months ahead.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits of the study, which generated about 400 replies:

•Some 37.5% of our subscribers indicate that their plants’ investment in capital equipment spending will increase this year compared with the year before. In fact, that number is the highest it’s been in six years.

•Nearly 50% of the respondents said their primary motivation for buying new equipment is to reduce cost. Reading between the lines, that suggests to me that there is a lot of equipment out there that is outdated in some way—either consuming too much energy or running two slowly … or both.

•Is the used equipment market about tapped out? Probably not, but more of our subscribers will be investing in new equipment this year, our study showed. Close to 67% told us they’d be buying new—the highest percentage since 2006, when the number was 68.3%.

•Along those same lines, more than $3.2 billion of the overall $4.87 billion in capital equipment we’re projecting that processors will spend in the coming year will be for new equipment.

•Those survey respondents buying primary processing equipment will be spending a projected $2.5 billion in 2012; nearly $1.7 billion of that will be invested in new machines for in injection molding, extrusion, blow molding, and thermoforming.

•This is one of my favorite tidbits: Investment in new auxiliaries is projected to be up to $1.7 billion this year, compared with about $1.5 billion in 2011. Quite interestingly, 13% of that investment in 2012 will be on robots, vs. about 8% last year. That’s a noticeable bump, and perhaps an indication that North American processors are finally starting to embrace automation more fully .

•Another good sign: Some $623 million is projected to be invested in molds and tooling this year, compared with $435 million in 2011. As moldmaking is generally considered to be a leading indicator for processing, that suggests that the pipeline is filling with new projects.

•Subscribers who replied to our study indicated that their plants are operating at a 76.5% average capacity level, up from 75% reported last year.
All in all, it sounds like a good year to have a plastics trade show. And there is one … NPE 2012, April 1-5 in Orlando, Fla. Our coverage of the show begins in this issue as we look at big-picture themes that will be prevalent among the exhibits.