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4/29/2013 | 2 MINUTE READ

Opening the Doors to New Technology And Gains for Processors

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After a few years of scaling back due to sluggish sales worldwide, machine builders have once more turned their attention and investment dollars to R&D to develop new solutions for plastics processors.

This is generally a busy time for plastics magazine editors. It’s a K Show year, and that means we typically get invited to several open houses so exhibitors can give the media an advance look at the technology offerings they will be bringing to the giant exhibit—scheduled for Oct. 16-23 in Dusseldorf, Germany.

But this year, the number of open-house invitations, both here in North America and abroad, has been staggering. We’ve made it to as many of as these as possible, in addition to the trade shows and other conferences we typically attend. And we’ve reported on new developments announced at these events.

These occasions have mostly involved injection molding machine builders, but there has been a smattering of news in extrusion, blow molding, and other processes as well, plus new developments in materials, auxiliary equipment, and tooling.

I think all of this activity is telling. And what it is telling us is that after a few years of scaling back due to sluggish sales worldwide, the machinery business by and large has bounced back and has once more turned its attention and investment dollars to R&D to develop new solutions for plastics processors.

From the looks of things, processors are full in recovery mode too. In this space back in February, I wrote that we’d soon be starting a new column that would report on the business activities of plastics processors. This column has debuted with this issue. We call it “By the Numbers, the Processors Business Index.” It’s authored by Steven Kline, Jr., director of market intelligence for Gardner Business Media, the Cincinnati-based parent company of Plastics Technology.

The index is based on monthly surveys we conduct of our subscribers (A gentle reminder: if you get one of these delivered to your inbox, please respond. It only takes a few moments and will make the results that much more valuable.) Steve’s been doing this kind of research for some other Gardner titles, including its flagship metalworking magazine, Modern Machine Shop, and also has a regular economic blog on Gardner’s corporate website.

The Index compares business conditions in the current month to those of the previous month. The survey I referenced asks questions about new orders, production, backlogs, employment, etc. Steve then weights the various sub-indices to create an overall index for the plastics processing industry.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion while a reading below 50 indicates contraction. March’s reading was 53.2, representing the third consecutive month of growth for plastics processors (see graph).  Steve’s research is supported by the results of another survey we at Plastics Technology have been doing for decades: our Custom Injection Molding Hourly Rates Survey. This survey shows that custom injection molders’ capacity utilization jumped almost 9 percentage points rom midyear to December 2012, and is back to the high levels of 2010 and the first half of 2011 (Yes, we need your participation in this survey too.)

The bitter taste of 2009-2010 will probably remain in everyone’s mouths for some time. But I think there is ample evidence to show the trend line is up. In some cases, like for those in automotive, it’s up a lot. Even the residential housing market is starting to percolate.

So we’ll keep reporting on new technology being developed by machinery and materials suppliers, and how you are deploying them.  And, if you receive a survey form, please take a few minutes to help us make the numbers we crunch more valuable.