Fakuma: Injection molding machine makers toast a very good year

Fakuma prostPicture-perfect autumn weather cast a golden glow around Fakuma’s silver jubilee in Friedrichshafen, Germany, this week. And a sunny mood pervaded the trade show, as well, as machine manufacturers got ready to celebrate a stellar 2017 and a positive forecast for 2018.

Eight seemed to be the magic number. Both Arburg and Engel said that they expect to hit around 8% growth over 2016 by year’s end. KraussMaffei also anticipates reaching the 8% mark in orders, but adds that sales will grow by an even heftier 10%. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag figures that 2017 will be one for the record books, as expected sales revenue of €273 million—a year-on-year increase of 17%—will beat the previous high recorded in 2015. 

All of the machine makers expect 2018 to be equally good, although some markets will outperform others. Wittmann Battenfeld gave positive marks to most European countries, with the exception of the UK, where demand is weakening, according to General Manager Michael Wittmann. He credits continued low interest rates and a “relatively weak” euro for the overall optimistic outlook.

Engel is bullish on Germany, one of its best markets in terms of revenue, the company said. Sales in Germany have increased by 50% over the last five years. CSO Christoph Steger notes that Germany continues to be the most technologically advanced market and the greatest driver of innovation, and its “companies are continuing to advance their global expansion,” all of which bodes well for the Austrian machinery maker.

KraussMaffei pointed to China during its press conference as an engine of growth for the group. “Through our new owner ChemChina, we now have even better access to the market than before,” said CEO Frank Stieler. "That’s something we intend to build on.” In fact, the company has done some significant building already. Stieler proudly noted that it had doubled production volume at its Haiyan, China, plant in about 12 months, and that additional increases are anticipated in 2018.

Business has been so good that some of the companies are experiencing what Engel CEO Stefan Engleder called a “positive problem.” As many customers can attest, delivery times for some of the most popular machines have been sketchy. KraussMaffei’s all-electric PX series, for example, has generated considerable interest in Germany, the United States and China, said the company. Production capacity will need to be doubled in 2018, it added, to satisfy demand. Still, a good problem to have, all things considered.

Given the positive outlook, it’s not surprising that some of the companies are knee-deep in expansion plans.

Engel noted that it was in the midst of the most comprehensive investment program in its history. It has already spent close to €120 million of the €375 million that has been allocated for improvements and expansion of its production facilities by 2020. Thus far, it has built a new production facility at its machine plant in St. Valentin, Austria, adding 4,000 square meters. An administrative building and customer technology center also will be built starting in the spring of 2018. Moreover, 11,500 square meters of additional space and an expanded technology center was recently added at the company headquarters, and Shanghai operations were expanded just in time for the 10th anniversary of the plant.

Wittmann Battenfeld’s expansion of the Kottingbrunn plant, which includes screw production, is on course for completion by December 2017. The expansion of the company’s facility in the Czech Republic is slated for completion by May 2018, and, starting next year, the company will move on expanding its facility in Nuremberg, Germany. Growing the production of automation systems is a focus at both of those plants. The Czech Republic is transitioning from a low-wage to value-add location and automation is a growing part of that business, said General Manager Michael Wittmann during a press conference, and there is huge demand for automation coming from the German market.

So, it’s been a very good year for Europe’s injection molding machine builders not to mention Fakuma, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, selling out the exhibition space months in advance and drawing record crowds. Dare I say the best is yet to come? Everyone around here seems to think so.

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