By Lynne Sherwin
For plastics processors, and the machinery makers that hope to earn their business, three letters loom large in the outlook for 2024: NPE.
After the cancellation of the 2021 show due to COVID-19 and a subsequent top-to-bottom overhaul of the management team at the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), which organizes the show, anticipation is high for this year’s event.
PLASTICS is promising to augment the traditional trade-show floor activities with immersive learning experiences, including sessions on workforce development, sustainability and artificial intelligence, aiming to draw younger workers who have moved into the industry since the last show.
In a 2023 PLASTICS column that appeared in Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, PLASTICS COO Glenn Anderson said the organization expects half of attendees will be NPE first-timers, and that “by 2025, it is estimated that 70 to 75 percent of the workforce will be millennials, age 27 to 42.”
“There are many people who have joined the plastics industry since the last show in 2018, and we are excited to meet them and learn about their challenges,” said Linda Campbell, VP of sales at Entek.
Manufacturing consultant and analyst Laurie Harbour of Harbour Results Inc. said she expects NPE2024 to be one of the biggest ever. Companies she’s spoken to are reserving larger booths and sending “droves of people.”
“It’s been so long since we had an NPE, and people are hungry for automation, they’re hungry for technology. How do we offset this inability to find labor? How do we improve our efficiency to make us more competitive against low-cost country environments? And they're also all looking for new sales,” Harbour said in an interview for the PMM Insight podcast.
Perc Pineda, chief economist for PLASTICS, said NPE2024 “should have a positive effect for the equipment sector of the industry and the industry as a whole.
“As we are all aware, new technology and innovation needs to be experienced by buyers and sellers alike, and sellers are enthusiastic for this to happen and a trade show makes it possible,” he said. “I think it would be a good thing to get the industry together, and from there, see what’s new and evolving, and everyone will have a better gauge of where the industry is from the technology part of it.”
Several OEM representatives noted the importance of a big show returning to the American market.
Bob Martin, senior VP global sales for KraussMaffei, said the company has attended regional shows, but with the enormous footprint of NPE, “we are confident the true company decision-makers will be in attendance and ready to work closely with our technical sales team. High attendance means many quality discussions will be taking place.”
“Attending regional events in 2022 was a reminder of the value of face-to-face meetings. We gain a better understanding of our customers’ challenges and how we can solve them with an in-person conversation,” said Glenn Frohring, one of the three owners of Absolute Haitian. “As our technology is increasingly complex, it’s much better to discuss improvements in front of a running machine so you can point out features and benefits of the new technology.”
Frohring expects NPE to generate a bump in sales, although perhaps not to the record levels of 2022.
“We have developed a lot of new products and solutions since the last NPE six years ago and are excited to present these to our North American customers,” said Daniel Gneuss, president of Gneuss Inc. “Especially our new Omni recycling lines should be of great interest.”
Vanessa Malena, president of Engel North America, said, “Having a big show back in the U.S. is fantastic. It’ll provide us with a solid gauge of the business climate and the market conditions.”
And Jim Healy, VP sales and marketing for automation provider Sepro America, said he’s looking forward to a large turnout not just from North America, but also Central and South America.
Frohring said Haitian also hopes to generate new business from meeting with international customers at the show.
While many expressed enthusiasm for the show’s return, others were more measured.
Martin Baumann, president and CEO of Arburg Inc., said in a recent interview that he doesn’t believe NPE will move the market much, because it cannot solve the current problems of high interest rates, machinery overcapacity and low utilization due to labor shortages.
“Some of our customers literally have machines in storage,” he said. “NPE can’t change that.”
The anticipation could also dampen sales in the first half of the year, Campbell said: “In past NPE years, equipment purchases have tended to be a bit slower prior to the show. We believe that attendees want to see and learn about new technology and equipment while at the show so they hold off until later in the year.”
Brian Hoffbauer, director of engineering for blow molder Pinnacle Plastic Products, said he’d like to attend NPE and expects he’d return with a “long list of wants.” However, he added, “it seems that our industry [blow molding] has not had a lot of innovation or attention, so I feel that a lot of what will be there will not be helpful for us.”
Pineda plans to walk the floor at NPE to take the pulse of exhibitors and attendees. “It’s a good opportunity to get an intercept interview with some of the buyers and some of the exhibitors of how things are moving.”
Harbour is also looking forward to this NPE. “People need to make a stepped change in their technology, their automation and their manufacturing,” Harbour said. “And I think they’re looking for what’s out there: ‘What can I do to make myself a better business?’ So I’m excited for it. ... I think it’s going to be a great show.”
Senior Staff Reporters Bruce Geiselman and Karen Hanna and Editor Ron Shinn contributed to this report.