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May 1, 2002

7 Min Read
Industry Watch

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With more than 3000 attendees including 150 U.S. customers, Arburg called its Technology Days exhibition an unqualified success. New technologies, including the company's latest Allrounder press and its new Advance line, were featured prominently.

Betting on a recovery
Taking the attitude that, slow economy or not, the show must go on, Arburg held its annual Technology Days gathering in March at the company headquarters and production site in Lossburg, Germany. Its optimism was rewarded with an attendance of more than 3000 customers, including about 150 from the U.S. Arburg spokesperson Christoph Schumacher says the company has not cancelled any new product developments despite the slowdown, and thus had new technology and applications it wanted to show. Foremost were two new machine series in the Allrounder line: the Alldrive Series modular technology systems and the Advance Series with electric drive technology (see New Products).

The heart of the event, however, was the showcase of application technology scattered around the facility. There were more than 30 machines or cells molding and producing multimaterial products, optical disks, PET bottle preforms, MIM and CIM products, thermoset parts, micro parts, LSR products, water- and gas-assist parts, products with inserts, cleanroom products, and more. A variety of presentations were held during the day, including a comprehensive overview of multimaterial mold design options given by Weber Formenbau. Herbert Kraibuehler, Arburg managing director of technology and engineering, said the good attendance at the event provides still more evidence of pent-up demand for new machine technology in many of the injection molding market segments. He said Arburg will show a 400-ton machine at its Fakuma exhibit this fall that will be the largest machine in the line, plus other new technology in anticipation of an economic recovery.



Automotive OEMs, suppliers power fuel cell advances
The internal combustion engine is a long way from being relegated to the scrap heap of automotive technologies, but a new report claims fuel cell systems are surging forward on an influx of research and development cash from automotive OEMs.

According to the report, fuel cells are slowly emerging as a viable market for suppliers and manufacturers, with fuel cell assemblies expected to reach $3 billion in factory-gate value by 2003. Car manufacturers are allotting more time and capital to the technology, and the government is prodding the industry forward in response to concerns over the environmental effects of combustion emissions, a dearth of domestic oil supplies, and petroleum's finite reserves worldwide.

In essence, the fuel cell functions as a battery, with the obvious benefit of not running down or needing recharging as long as fuel is supplied. Consisting of two electrodes surrounding an electrolyte, the fuel cell operates by having oxygen pass over one electrode and hydrogen over the other. The byproducts of the ensuing reaction are electricity, water, and heat. Potential applications include electrical generators for homes and industry, power systems for cars, and even a replacement for the conventional batteries found in devices as small as mobile phones and PDAs.

Principia Partners consulting firm has released a report entitled "Material Opportunities in Fuel Cell Technology: 2002 & Beyond" to address the current situation of the market and gauge its future prospects. The report predicts continued growth through 2010 with thermosets, thermoplastics, elastomers, and nanofibers contributing to many components. High conductivity, corrosion resistance, thermal stability, low creep, dimensional stability, and flame retardancy were targeted as essential material properties, with resins like PPS, LCP, PBT, and nylon potentially playing prominent roles.

Liquid or gaseous hydrogen has emerged as the early fuel of choice, but where it will be derived from remains uncertain. It could potentially be drawn from existing fuels such as gasoline and propane, but resource uncertainty and the lack of infrastructure for pure hydrogen production has slowed development. DaimlerChrysler has plans to deliver buses using fuel cells in 2002 but will wait on passenger cars until 2004.

Another alternative energy vehicle that's experiencing growth and increased investment is the hybrid car. Using a small internal combustion engine to generate electricity and batteries to supplement power when accelerating or climbing hills, hybrids are one alternative that have already entered the marketplace in the form of Honda's Prius and Toyota's Insight.

Hybrid designs remain the primary focus of many automakers, with most estimates putting widespread use of pure fuel cell vehicles 10 to 15 years down the road. In the interim, automotive OEMs are planning hybrids for mass consumer use. DaimlerChrysler is currently working on a hybrid SUV, the Jeep Commander 2, that's powered by a 2500-lb hybrid-electric fuel cell powertrain. The powertrain weighs 1100 lb more than a standard combustion engine, but use of lightweight molded thermoplastics in a lower-mass body brings the vehicle's total weight to just 5715 lb—slightly more than existing, full-size SUVs.



Berry weighs options, mulls selling
Completing 15 purchases since 1992, Berry Plastics (Evansville, IN) is very familiar with mergers and acquisitions as the buying agent. But in one of the moves that the company is considering to stoke its blistering growth, Berry might experience life as a seller.

Founded in 1967 and currently owned by First Atlantic Capital Ltd., J.P. Morgan Partners, and Aetna Life Insurance, the packaging molder has grown exponentially since an infusion of capital following its 1990 purchase by First Atlantic. Sales in 1990 were $57 million, but following a slew of acquisitions that began in 1992, they grew to $408 million by 2000, and most recently posted a company record of $462 million in 2001. Now, to keep up this torrid pace, Berry's CEO Ira G. Boots says the company is evaluating ways to maintain its policy of expansion.

"With the performance that we've just come off of," Boots says, "it's simply time to look at the financial package around us, and we are looking at all the alternatives. We want to continue the growth. We really want to put a larger package around us so that we can continue to be in the acquisitive mode that we've been in and actually even accelerate the growth."

Boots stresses that Berry and its ownership group are truly evaluating all available options, and there's no set timetable for action.

"All our options are open, including not doing anything," Boots says, "which would be very acceptable. [Our options] could range from a refinancing of the company to a sale of the company, and again we don't have to do anything."

Any move by Berry, which counts giants like Gillette, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart among its 12,000 customers, would reverberate throughout the consumer products, caps, and closures markets. It has more than 3000 employees at 14 plants in 10 states, England, Italy, and Mexico.

"This is a very positive step in the path of Berry Plastics," Boots explains. "Due to the growth of our business, we're looking to see what alternatives will actually pave the future to allow us to continue to do the things we've done in the past."



Tool shops polled to expose American moldmakers' plight
Taking their cue from U.S. steel producers, American moldmakers are building a case for unfair foreign competition to present to the International Trade Commission (ITC). A May 21 hearing will decide if ITC action is warranted.

Spearheading one effort to form the U.S. case is mold component manufacturer D-M-E. The company has organized a survey to assess the state of domestic moldmaking and as of early April, it had received more than 600 responses.

"The purpose of the survey is to do a fact-finding mission to learn more about the issues facing moldmakers, toolmakers, and diecasters," says Bob Starr, D-M-E's marketing services manager.

Veris Consulting will compile the results and release aggregate data, keeping individual responses confidential. The survey examines sales, number of employees, dollar value of molds, and capital equipment purchases. Other questions ask moldmakers to identify two factors that have hindered their business since 1997 and to list two countries outside of NAFTA that represent the biggest threat to their business over the next three years.

To learn more about the survey and for the latest news related to the ITC hearing, visit www.moldanddiefairtrade.org.



Short shots
Hyundai Motor Co. will join Toyota, Honda, and DaimlerChrysler as another automotive OEM with facilities in Alabama. A new $1 billion assembly and manufacturing plant will employ 2000 and open in 2005 in Montgomery.

Reeling from the bankruptcy of its largest customer Kmart, StyleMaster Inc. (Chicago) has declared bankruptcy itself and in April, as IMM went to press, was scheduled for auction.

ASK Plastics (Philadelphia, PA) completed the acquisition of Jamison Plastic (Allentown, PA). The company says the new facility will become its primary assembly and supply-chain management plant.

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