Industry Watch

Congressional committee lends toolmakers an ear
Ten months of research and the cooperation of several trade associations have culminated in 282-page report that American mold- and diemakers can now use as a tool to educate members of their own industry as well as their legislators.

The document, created by the International Trade Commission (ITC), is intended to be an unbiased but thorough examination of the competition that domestic manufacturers of tools, dies, and molds face from foreign counterparts. The report resulted from the direct pleas made by American die- and moldmakers in May to the ITC, which performed extensive research and offered its findings on Oct. 21 to the House Ways & Means Committee.

The report contained no formal recommendations for action, as its primary purpose is to make Congress aware of the rapid changes occurring within the moldmaking industry over the last five years. For U.S. moldmakers and the trade associations that represent them, the primary task right now, according to Scott Harris, president of the American Mold Builders Assn. (AMBA), is to organize the industry and arm legislators with the information they need to effect real change for American tool shops through law.

“[U.S. moldmakers] really have to look at this as a starting point,” Harris says. “We need to work hard as an industry to educate our customers, legislators, and communities about the value and some of the challenges that the domestic tool, die, and mold industry faces.”

Harris said individually the AMBA is encouraging members to correspond with their legislators, including a current letter-writing campaign asking members of Congress to say if they’ve read the report, and if they have, to offer their thoughts on the situation. The AMBA is also working to devise incentives for manufacturers to purchase American-made tools, including tax-credit programs, which it can promote to Congress.

On a larger scale, Harris says the AMBA has joined forces with other tool-specific trade groups as well as several larger manufacturing associations to form the Manufacturers for Fair Trade (MFT) coalition, created to sway policy makers.

“The MFT is really neat in the fact that it focuses on public policy change for manufacturing,” Harris explains, “and it’s not only made up of tool, die, and mold companies, but also of large manufacturing associations across the country.”

Harris says the MFT will concentrate on two main goals in the coming months. First, it’s making a push for a presidential task force to use the ITC’s findings to draw conclusions and recommend action. Secondly, the MFT is attempting to organize a highly visible, public event to bring further attention to its cause. Harris says some have suggested a march on Washington, but he envisions something more along the lines of a nationwide press conference occurring in several locales and drawing the attention of national media. The intention is to educate the public, and especially lawmakers, about the current competitive atmosphere within mold- and diemaking.

“Legislators are eager to help, but they are typically uninformed,” Harris says. “They really can’t make policy recommendations without knowing the industry.”

To learn more, visit the AMBA’s site, www.amba.org, or the site mold component maker D-M-E established for the cause, www.moldanddiefairtrade.org.

Are electric machines gaining in Europe?
European molders still own far fewer all-electric machines than do North American and Asian molders, but at least one machine supplier is seeing signs of change. At the Sept. 30-Oct. 4 Interplas show in Birmingham, England, Ferromatik Milacron’s Hans-Ludwig Steupert said that during Q2 2002, 40 percent of the new machines ordered from his company were all-electric systems. Compare that to just 7 percent for the full year 2001.

Roughly half of the electric machines were specialized DVD systems, but the rest are mostly Ferromatik’s Elektra Evolution machines. The Evolution Series (30 to 155 metric tons) was introduced at the K Show in October 2001. Steupert said the machines, which were engineered specifically to lower the price point for electric systems, are allowing molders to see electric machines as general purpose systems rather than specialized high-performance units.

Bankruptcy for Trend
In October 2000, Trend Technologies Inc. (San Jose, CA) acquired Cowden Metal Specialties Inc. (Chino, CA) to add that company’s metal stamping, painting, and decoration capabilities to its own injection molding abilities. The goal? Start-to-finish manufacturing of enclosures for its electronics customers like Dell, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, HP, Solectron, and Celestica. Two years after the move, and in the midst of a brutal electronics market, Trend announced that it voluntarily filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Nov. 7 in U.S. bankruptcy court.

According to a release issued by the company, Earl Payton, who most recently served as Trend’s CEO, is heading a group looking to purchase a reorganized Trend for $70 million. Payton was named Trend’s CEO on Feb. 8, 2002 replacing William B.R. Hobbs, but according to the release, he’s no longer functioning in that role and has stepped down to spearhead the effort to purchase Trend.

Through a series of acquisitions and internal expansion, Trend grew rapidly to include 15 facilities with more than 2 million sq ft of production space and 250 molding machines operating in the U.S., Mexico, Ireland, Singapore, and Hungary. But in an early warning sign of the company’s struggles, Trend announced on July 8 that it was closing its Albuquerque, NM facility.

Maya Pogoda, a spokesperson for the company, says the bankruptcy filing will not affect Trend’s foreign operations, and will allow the company’s U.S. operations to move forward with some semblance of normalcy.

“It’s business as usual,” she says. “That’s one of the benefits of Chapter 11—that while the company addresses its financial situation, its operations actually continue.”

Short shots
Citing processing delays of up to three to four months, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) is encouraging foreign visitors to June’s National Plastics Exhibition (NPE) in Chicago, IL to apply for visas now. To further expedite the process, SPI has visa data on its show website, www.npe.org, as well as links to relevant government agencies.

To better reflect its growing presence in auxiliaries, Wittmann Robot & Automation Systems Inc. (Torrington, CT) has changed its name to Wittmann Inc. The company also fully incorporated its granulator division, CMB Wittmann.

Battenfeld (Meinerzhagen, Germany) has announced an alliance to create wear-resistant screws for ceramic molding and extrusion. The alliance comprises two German academic institutions and a German ceramics company. Battenfeld plans to have a product available by the end of 2004.

United Plastics Group (Westmont, IL) announced the opening of its new Suzhou, China molding and moldmaking facility. The plant operates 20 presses, EDM for toolmaking, and a Class 10,000 cleanroom.

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