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European Machinery Suppliers See Steadying Markets

After a sharp drop in activity at the start of the year, the German plastics and rubber machinery sector has corrected with 2020 orders tracking only 3% below 2019 levels, while Austria’s Engel and Wittmann Battenfeld saw North American bright spots.

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Germany’s Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association (VDMA) reported that despite the sharp downturn experienced as coronavirus shutdowns swept across globe, the sector in 2020 is only trailing 2019 results from January to October by 3%. The VDMA said the downward slide flattened by the middle of the year and since September, incoming orders have been on the rise.

VDMA Chairman Ulrich Reifenhäuser said that, in fact, September incoming orders were up 13% over the year-ago month, while in October, there were twice as many orders on the books compared to 2019.

This recovery has also been evident in Germany’s plastics and rubber machinery export figures. Through April, monthly figures were significantly lower than the previous year, but starting in June, VDMA saw “a catch-up effect.” In September, exports were higher than year-prior results for the first time in 2020.

Despite the improvements, the VDMA still believes 2020 will finish the year 10 to 15% below 2019’s figures, with revenue down 14%, year over year, from January to October. In 2021, VDMA expects sales to increase by 5%, with a 10% gain in 2022. By 2023, it expects the sector to return to pre-crisis levels.

Wittmann Battenfeld’s View

In a virtual October presentation, Austrian injection molding machine, robotics and auxiliary supplier Wittmann Battenfeld said that while it expected overall 2020 revenue to be down 17% compared to 2019, there were bright spots.

Michael Wittmann, managing director for Wittmann Battenfeld, said North American in general, and the U.S. in particular, had done quite well, with no decline at the time. In fact, Wittmann believed 2020 could mark the first time U.S. market revenue would outstrip sales in Germany. Beyond the coronavirus, a key impact there was uncertainty about the automotive market, especially as manufacturers wait to see what alternative drivetrains catch hold.

Engel Eyes Recovery

In October, injection molding machine and automation supplier Engel, also headquartered in Austria, noted that 2020 had presented challenges and opportunities, with some markets like medical doing quite well.

Stefan Engleder, Engel’s CEO, said the company finished the fiscal year ending in March 2020, with revenue of Euro 1.3 billion—down almost 20% from Euro 1.6 billion the year prior. At that stage, halfway the current fiscal year, Engleder estimated another 20% decline.

CSO Christoph Steger also said North America was a bright spot for the company, even in the auto segment. “Surge buying” due to lockdowns had driven activity in packaging and consumer goods, while being stuck at home had prompted DIY investments in the home, including materials and tools. Online ordering also boosted work the company did in the logistics industry.

Engel e-live e-xperience

Engel presented company results and new technologies at its virtual event in October. 

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