Blow machinery executives report stable business for 2016 — but nothing spectacular.
“It will go down as a good business year with steady machine shipments, but not extraordinary either,” said Gary Carr, vice president of sales at Bekum America Corp. “Starting with the K show on, things have really picked up.”
Bekum America is based in Williamston, Michigan, US. The German parent company, Bekum Maschinenfabriken, had a changing of the guard at K 2016 — Michael Mehnert's first K as managing partner. He is the son of Bekum founder Gottfried Mehnert.
At the K show in Düsseldorf, Germany, Bekum rolled out its Eblow 37, an electric blow moulding machine that turned out canisters. It is the latest version of the company's Eblow press.
“It was a good show for Bekum. We were very busy, machines were sold and business was good,” Carr said.
“The outlook is very positive,” Carr said. “2017 looks like it could be very strong year.”
The mammoth K 2016 marked a continuation of the blow moulding technology debate over all-electric, hybrid or hydraulic.
Jomar Corp., which makes injection blow molders in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, US, came out with a servo-hydraulic machine at K 2016. Jomar worked with Bosch Rexroth Group on the custom-designed system to power the press and the plastifier — using a new radial-piston type motor to generate the necessary torque.
Jomar Sales Manager Ron Gabriele said it did debut a hybrid machine with an all-electric plastifier, at K 2013. It was so big that the company had to stretch the machine frame, just for the servomotor. Replacing the clamping system would be hugely expensive, he said.
“We found that the replacement costs of all-electric components made the machine basically economically unviable. To replace a hydraulic component was so much cheaper than replacing an electric component,” Gabriele said.
The new press has costs that are more lined up with an all-hydraulic machine. Soon after that K 2013 show, the company starting developing the servo-driven hydraulics, he said.
The early word? “It's been extremely well-received,” he said. Customers want energy savings, but they want it on a hardy system that is reasonably priced.
Even so, electric technology backers made news in 2016. Amsler Equipment Inc. is working on a machine with a whopping 11 or 12 servomotors. “It's going to be for the custom blow molder. Anybody that needs to change out their machine is going to like this machine,” said Heidi Amsler, sales and marketing manager.
She said the company will keep the exotic blow molder at Amsler in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The company will probably run production for a customer, and the new machine will help train production people, she said.
One big application: Hot-fill. “We started that this year, so it's new from us,” Amsler said. She added the company recently delivered all-electric hot-fill machines to Grenada.
Amsler, from its very beginnings, has focused only on all-electrics for its PET stretch blow molding machines.
Of the sales to Grenada, Heidi Amsler said: “Hopefully that will lead to more hot-fill machine sales. We understand that there's some older machines out there that need to replaced, and that's the business we want to pursue.”
Gina Haines, vice president and chief marketing officer at Graham Engineering, said company leaders had hoped a stronger second half of 2015 would give momentum to the early part of 2016. “But once again, the market was slow to materialize,” she said.
Graham, based in York Pennsylvania, got an order for its second Mini Hercules, a compact accumulator-head machine launched in 2015, as well as additional orders for other accumulator head machines and the rotary wheel blow moulders for packaging.
“The second half of 2016 has been considerably stronger for us, providing a healthy backlog heading into 2017,” Haines said.
The New Year will see another blow molding press supplier in the US market, as Magic MP SpA, the Italian maker of all-electric continuous extrusion blow molding machines, plans to set up a US showroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2017.
Milacron Holdings's Uniloy business is winning some sales with its suction blow molding technology, designed at its facility in Magenta, Italy, said Dave Skala, group vice president and general manager of Uniloy Milacron. For automotive, the 3D moulding process typically makes large parts such as ducting.
On the high density polyethylene packaging side, Skala reports there has been a lot of “rebuild and retrofit” or re-purposing activity lately. North America is still active in the market, he said.
Packaging was Milacron's highlight at K 2016, as the company displayed its M-PET 300 doing coinjection with a Kortec system, for molding barrier-layer packaging. Milacron also molded its Klear Can, a clear replacement for metal and glass food containers.
Working with the Kortec expertise also offers applications in the pharmaceutical and medical area, Skala said.
Bob Jackson has an interesting take on electric blow molding presses, after returning from the K show in Germany. “The thing that freaked me out more than anything else is, I saw nothing but electric machines,” he said. Jackson said Europeans appear to have embraced the technology, but it's been much slower to come to the United States. Low energy prices are a big reason, he said.
His company, Jackson Machinery Inc. in Port Washington, Wisconsin, US, wants to change that, by representing Hesta machines from Germany.
Jackson is a big supporter of electric power for blow moulders. “The machines are somewhat self-correcting and are easier to run from a startup standpoint and getting a good bottle out of them,” he said. And they are more repeatable and precise.
“I think [electric] is going to sweep across the country,' he said.
Jackson even supports electric technology for accumulator-head blow molding machines — which can be a moribund area for industrial machinery, outside of automotive. “The industry out there is stable but not growing at any particular rate,” he said. Jackson Machinery does rebuilding and makes new machinery.
“I still have carcasses left over from 2008-2009,” he said about the company's accumulator-head collection. Wondering when the market for new machinery will pick up, he said: “I'm trying to find a reason why people are chasing used machines and not new machines.”
Cost is an obvious reason, since it's cheaper to rebuild older machines than buy new. But Jackson said there are not many good used accumulator head machines out there. “I have clients from everywhere looking for bits and pieces because the machine broke,” he said.
Jackson is staying busy on rebuilding. But he said that is a key question for 2017 — will companies invest in new machines?
“Now we are using up our carcasses that are left over after the meltdown, and I have hope for next year. I'm tired of cleaning junk,” Jackson said.