The 2018 Global Trends report also showed that U.S. plastics companies exported $15.7 billion to Mexico and $12.5 billion to Canada in 2017, maintaining their largest trade surplus—$10.6 billion—with Mexico, as they had in 2016. Despite the uncertainty of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2017, Mexico and Canada remained the U.S. plastics industry’s strongest trading partners, said the report.
What molders and moldmakers are anticipating in 2019
When contacted for a comment on what they expected for 2019, a few molders who are also moldmakers responded. Buying machinery doesn’t seem too high on the list of plans for 2019. One respondent, Matrix Plastic Products (Wood Dale, IL) said the company added two new molding presses as well as some automation equipment in the second half of 2018.
“One of the new presses is a vertical machine to address the increased demand we’re seeing for over-molded applications,” said Anne Ziegenhorn, Sales and Marketing Manager for Matrix Plastic Products. “Based on our customers’ forecasts, we do not anticipate a slow-down for the coming year and are looking forward to a healthy 2019 with some new business on the horizon, as well.”
Evco Plastics (DeForest, WI), a global player in custom injection molding, saw a “very successful 2018 in terms of bringing in new clients and new programs from our existing customer base,” said CEO Dale Evans. “These new programs are due to launch throughout 2019, which will result in double-digit growth year-over-year.”
Evans explained that shifts in the company’s sales projections tend to lag U.S. industrial production trends by a few months. “Considering this, we would expect our general business to slow down the rate of increase in Q3 or Q4 of 2019,” he said.
“We are cautiously optimistic for growth in 2019 and are hearing the same from our customers,” commented Evco’s Director of Sales Stratgey Kate Bashir. “2018 has been a record year for tool building at Evco, which then results in part sales in subsequent years.”
Two respondents to my inquiry said their companies had no plans to invest in any large scale machinery or equipment. Tim Peterson, Vice President of Industrial Molds Group (Rockford, IL) said “most of the company’s planned investments for 2019 will be in support equipment for efficiencies.” However, added Peterson, “we anticipate growth in both our tooling division and the molding operations.”
Ray Coombs, President of Westminster Tool in Plainfield, CT, noted that his company has “been conservative” in purchasing equipment this year. “We have invested most of our money in infrastructure for human capital,” Coombs responded, adding, “in all, I feel the biggest challenge to the industry is the skills gap. It is being felt now more than ever since the capacities are being challenged.”
When it comes to the issues surrounding China and tariffs, and whether it’s driving more business back to the U.S., Industrial’s Peterson said, “I think it’s helped but no proof one way or the other. We’re seeing some higher steel prices but nothing crazy.”
Westminster’s Coombs commented, “from what we have seen it has helped us. Customers that would normally go to China are rethinking [their strategy].”