Pent-up demand may spur sales of automation

May 23, 2016

More than one injection molding machine maker has been saying that because of the recession in 2008 there is still pent-up demand for new presses. That may be true, but there is also evidence that the demand may be slowing in 2016.

So what is the next hot thing? One expert believes it is automation equipment plus the myriad auxiliary devices that tie the machinery, work cell and entire plant together.

"Automation of the machinery and the plant has the most pent-up demand now," said Jeff Mengel, a partner at Plante & Moran PLLC, an accounting and business consulting firm based in Chicago. Mengel has been surveying the plastics industry for more than 20 years. He continuously collects data from processers and twice a year analyzes it for the companies that participate.

"The most significant cost a processor has after material is labor," Mengel said. "He has to look for ways to leverage labor."

Mengel defines automation broadly, starting with robots but including other equipment that gets resin to the processing machine and takes parts away.

There is other evidence he may be correct. North American robot orders hit record highs in 2015 — up 14 percent to 31,464 units — according to the Robotic Industries Association, Ann Arbor, Mich. In addition to the automotive sector, there was strong demand from the semiconductor and electronics industries. It is not known how many of these new robots were put to work in plastics processing plants.

The age of primary processing equipment is one of the items Mengel surveys. Injection molding presses with less than 100 tons of clamping force currently average about 14 years old. Ten years ago, the average press that size was 8 years old.

"We have a number of clients now that look at cheaper presses," he said. "They are buying them for one program. If that machine happens to work for a second program, it is a bonus." Mengel said the automotive industry has driven that thought process with its multiyear contracts for a part based on a production platform and not a specific year.

"So is there a pent-up demand for primary equipment? I would say no," he said. "The average molder has 25 machines. Is he going to replace 25 at once? No. He is going to buy one or two a year."

Mengel said he has been surprised that more processors have not adopted the lights-out strategy. "Our clients who have adopted lights-out manufacturing have seen growth that is better than the average," he said.

Processors can participate in the Plante & Moran study at no cost and receive semiannual reports for the year in which they participate. The detailed, 90-page reports cover all processes and are an excellent tool for benchmarking manufacturing operations. Details are at

THE K SHOW in Düsseldorf may seem like many months and many miles away, but that is not the case at Plastics Machinery Magazine.

We plan to bring our U.S. readers information about a significant number of new products introduced at the K show, starting with a special supplement in November titled K in Focus. You can expect to see more than 100 new products presented in our popular Product Innovations format.

The K in Focus supplement will go to all print subscribers and all of the Product Innovations will go on our website. A digital edition will also be distributed worldwide.

Since K in Focus will be mailed to readers just a few days after the K show closes, we are relying on exhibiting companies to share their new products with PMM in time to be included. Machinery and equipment manufacturers can submit product information and photographs to editorial@plastics The deadline is Sept. 1. It is a great way to get product information in front of an audience that is not likely to attend the show.

Our editorial staff will be well-represented at the K show and you can expect to read in-depth reports starting in the December issue and continuing for several months. It is a big event for the industry and we plan to bring the excitement and new technology unveiled at the show to our readers.


LAST MONTH we launched the Patent Report by Senior Correspondent Doug Smock. 

I predict it will become one of your favorite features in PMM. The idea is to write about the latest technology ideas in the industry. Some, like the new heater/cooler barrel shroud design from Davis-Standard LLC in last month's issue, will be available immediately. Others, such as this month's report on a new system to improve the homogeneity of extruded foam patented by Gneuss Kunststofftechnik GmbH, won't be available until later.

But this is the best place to keep up with the gee-whiz technology advances in plastics processing.

Check it out. If you or your company have applied for or received a patent, email Smock at [email protected].

Ron Shinn, editor

[email protected]

About the Author

Ron Shinn | Editor

Editor Ron Shinn is a co-founder of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and has been covering the plastics industry for more than 35 years. He leads the editorial team, directs coverage and sets the editorial calendar. He also writes features, including the Talking Points column and On the Factory Floor, and covers recycling and sustainability for PMM and Plastics Recycling.