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July 1, 2004

11 Min Read
Austrians parry with Chinese piracy

Millions of euros damage claimed

Four Austrian profile extrusion toolmakers have gone public with their fight against sales in Europe and North America of copycat extrusion tooling made in China. The four—Technoplast, Greiner Extrusionstechnik, Gruber Extrusionstechnik, and A+G (a Gruber subsidiary)—claim the most grievous violations stem from two Chinese firms, China Jari Tooling Ltd. (Yungang, Jiangsu Province) and Tongling Sanjia Mould Co. (Tongling, Arhui Province), part of the Sanjia Group that includes injection mold manufacturing. Other Chinese firms are also violating patents, according to Technoplast officials. The Austrian firms have little hope of stopping the patent infringement in China and other Asian markets, but intend to fight any infringements in Europe and North America.

The Austrians won the first round last year when Tongling was banned from exhibiting at the NPE in Chicago. That firm also signed a legally binding agreement to no longer sell its tooling to customers in Europe or the U.S., says Meinhard Schwaiger, technical manager at Technoplast. But that agreement has been broken, says Technoplast CEO Werner Kampichler. "Sales are being made even to our long-standing customers from producers who do either very little or absolutely no development work of their own, pushing down the prices," he says.

For copies already in Europe, Technoplast is considering legal action, including confiscation of pirated tooling from processors, says Schwaiger. According to Technoplast, much of the copycat tooling does not function due to "slavish" imitation and use of low quality tooling steel. Kampichler reckons the damage and lost sales to the Austrian firms extends into the millions of euros.

At Jari Tooling''s European office in Cologne, Germany, an official refused to give his name but says of the patent infringement claims, "I think it''s a market action," hinting that the Austrians are complaining just to increase their sales. On June 4 he said the firm''s legal department would reply to the charges by late June or early July. Jari has had an office in Germany since 2002 and sells its tools throughout Western Europe.

In Brief Moll back in acquisition game

After a buying binge and the subsequent debt pushed it into bankruptcy in 2002, custom injection molder Moll Industries (Dallas, TX) made its first deal since its reorganization, acquiring Creative Plastic Molders Inc. (CPM; Lexington, NC). Citing increasing sales over the last year, Moll president, Ron Embree says the deal "makes good sense" as Moll intends to focus CPM''s new 110,000-sq-ft facility on the medical market. The purchase ups Moll''s global machinery total to 220 injection machines, ranging from 33 to 1650 tons and spread between North Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, and Brazil.

Thai government''s big plans for moldmaking

Thailand''s Industry Ministry has mapped out a $40-million plan to develop a local moldmaking cluster to serve growing demand from the automobile industry, among others. The ministry plans to seek budget approval from the cabinet to develop human resources, training, technology, and business networking to improve the quality and competitiveness of the moldmaking sector. It aims to train 605 toolmakers this year and 7,500 in the next five years. Thailand imported molds valued at $490 million in 2003, while exports were valued at less than $100 million.

DuPont ETP investment

DuPont is building the first plant of its type for single-stage continuous polymerization of high-temperature nylons, which it sells under the Zytel HTN banner. The plant, set to come onstream around year-end in Richmond, VA, will have a capacity of 13,700 tonnes/yr, more than doubling global base polymer capacity.

Injection molding is going, going... gone

Internet auction house eBay, which already lists plastics processing equipment on its website for auction, is also providing a platform for processing services. An unidentified injection molder near Olpe, Germany is offering to process small lot jobs at an opening bid price of €1 to fill its capacity during slack periods. According to German eBay officials, the company says it can offer prices similar to Eastern European processors but at German quality standards on injection molding machines from 35 to 80 tonnes clamping force.

Recovering SMS headed to the U.S. with Cincinnati Extrusion, looking to China with Battenfeld

Most of the problems at machine group SMS Plastics Technology "are homemade" says new CEO Wilhelm Schroder "and therefore solutions should be in reach." At a pre-K 2004 press conference in Vienna in late May, he described 2003 as probably the most difficult in the company''s history, and said performance was "totally unsatisfactory". But he said that weaknesses in company philosophy and structure were more than offset by its strengths as a builder of injection and extrusion equipment. Brands include Battenfeld, Gloucester and Cincinnati.

Announcing a restructuring program that would take shape in coming months, and which should see the group back in the black by the end of 2005, Schroder said management of Battenfeld''s injection molding operations in Kottingbrunn, Austria, and Meinerzhagen, Germany, would be more centralized. Battenfeld Austria chief Reinhard Gruber has left, and coming back to Battenfeld as sales director (after a stint with Schroder at Krauss Maffei) is Dietmar Morwitzer. Fritz Dorner is technical director.

Asked about plans for making injection machines in China, Schroder said company restructuring had to come first, but with Battenfeld''s extrusion joint venture with Chen Hsong already established, "we can then start fast ... we have no choice." It could be three years at least before operations begin, however.

SMS is overall market leader in extrusion, and the Vienna-based Cincinnati Extrusion operation sold more extruders last year - over 400 - than ever before. CE has a major presence in China, which accounts for some 40% of its sales. It will also next year set up sales and marketing in the NAFTA and Central American regions (it is already present in South America) where it will be in direct competition with Cincinnati Milacron, once a sister company, and which has only just changed its name after several years as Milacron Extrusion.

While there is likely to be some confusion in the market about the two companies, Schroder reckons Cincinnati Milacron''s current image campaign is "free advertising" for Cincinnati Extrusion, while CE managing director Walter Häder says that "with our brand name being well accepted [in that region] we expect to be off to a flying start and achieve a notable position in the pipe, profile and sheet businesses." The Company will launch numerous new products at K 2004.

Engel attacking packaging markets, adding electrics, cutting delivery times

An order for four MacPET preform injection machines with an option for four more from German mineral water company Brandenburger Urstromquelle "proves we are on the right track" with the machines, says Engel Austria director Georg Tinschert.

After several years making machines under contract for Krupp (later SIG) Corpoplast, Engel now makes and markets its own range, catering for cavitation up to 96. It sold 15 systems in the second half of its last financial year, and is budgeting for 25 this year.

The MacPET machines form part of a new thrust into the packaging sector (December 2003 MP/MPI), which also includes MacPAC high-speed toggle machines for thinwall packaging. New technology director Hans Wobbe says Engel has used Netstal as the benchmark for the MacPAC machines, which debut at K 2004.

Also premiering at the show will be E-Motion T all-electric toggle machines, to complement tiebarless types already available in sizes from 550 to 1800 kN. The toggle machines will extend the range to 3500 kN.

Carbon fibers the choice for planes.... Toray in $3-billion deal to supply B7E7 carbon fiber composites to Boeing

Toray Industries, Inc. (Tokyo) has been selected by Boeing Inc. (Chicago) to be the exclusive supplier of carbon fiber composite materials to be used in the primary structural elements of the B7E7 Dreamliner, a next-generation medium-size aircraft scheduled to enter service in 2008. Toray is to supply carbon fiber composite materials to Boeing from 2004 through 2021.

Toray will provide Boeing with carbon fiber prepreg, a sheet made from epoxy resin pregnated in carbon fiber. The deal is valued at $3 billion. The contract assumes that Boeing will make 1,500 of these jets. This figure will increase still further if other composite materials get approval from Boeing. Toray''s TORAYCA prepreg, which is a combination of high-strength carbon fiber and toughened epoxy resin, has been used for the primary structural areas of the B777 tail assembly and floor beams. Boeing has selected Toray''s advanced composite materials for almost all primary structural parts of the B7E7, including wing and fuselage.

Despite the increased use of carbon fibers in aeronautical applications, the material is still viewed as too costly and difficult to process in high volumes for many mainstream applications. (June 2004 MP/MPI)

Chinese execs'' salaries on the move

The influx of foreign-owned firms, and their corresponding demand for local talent, has proven profitable for Chinese job seekers with the right credentials. A wage survey published by human resources outsourcing and consultation firm Hewitt Associates (Lincolnshire, IL) reveals that Chinese professionals and executives working at foreign-owned firms in China saw their salaries rise nearly 7% on average in 2003. The average annual income for senior Chinese executives in these companies is RMB645,000 ($77,700); a mid-level executive makes RMB297,000 ($35,780).

Further down the scale, a white-collar Chinese employee at a foreign enterprise earns an average annual salary of roughly RMB100,000 (US$12,000); a factory or general office worker could expect about RMB36,000 (approx. $4340).

As of early 2004, the number of foreign firms in China numbered 468,200 and rising as many move their China headquarters from Hong Kong to the Mainland.

Meat package processors making moves

Processors at the IFFA meat show in Frankfurt in May discussed packaging trends (see article this issue) as well as ongoing projects. Among their plans:

  • Amcor Flexibles (Gent, Belgium) will soon start extrusion coating of its DuroFlex PP/EVOH lidding films to make them more attractive in the U.K. market, where clear lidding is usually labeled, not printed as in continental Europe.

  • Thermoformer RPC Bebo (Goor, the Netherlands) is engaged in some high-barrier thermoformed packaging projects for potential customers in the U.S., a market where RPC is not yet active. The firm already sells much of its output from the Goor facility to Asia, especially China and Japan.

    Another thermoformer, ES Plastics (Hutthurm, Germany), part of the Plasticos Packaging Group (Baar, Switzerland), intends to open a thermoforming plant in the U.K. to form PP trays for fresh meats, says sales manager Leon de Wijs. The processor is already exporting its trays to the Netherlands and France, and next month it starts supplying trays to Belgium''s largest meat factory for product intended for giant retailer Carfour. In Germany, the firm has capacity to form about 500 million trays per year, he says, and is adding new thermoforming machinery to build capacity to about 1 billion trays.

Berstorff enters lower-cost machine fray

A visit to Chinese injection molding machine manufacturer Haitian prompted the development of a new low-cost range of twin-screw compound extruders at Berstorff, according to CEO Manfred Reichel. He says that the idea for the Berstorff''s ZE Basic range came after executives from Berstorff and other Mannesmann Plastics Machinery (MPM) group member firms visited Haitian (world''s largest injection molding machine maker by unit sales with more than 11,000 shipped in 2003). Haitian has JVs with MPM member firm Demag Ergotech (horizontal injection presses), and Japan''s Sanjo Seiki (vertical injection machines).

Haitian officials told the visitors their customers were less-and-less interested in machines guaranteed for a lifetime, and more keen on machines guaranteed to last the life of their next project.

A prototype ZE Basic will be shown at K 2004 in October. Pricing is not set, but Reichel says the new extruders will cost at least 20% less than the firm''s ZE UTX line. With the Basic, Berstorff is chasing demand from toll compounders, the same market that one of Berstorff''s key competitors, Coperion Werner & Pfleiderer, hopes to target through its purchase of Chinese extruder maker Keya (May 2004 MP/MPI).

Basell expands polybutene-1 capacity with new plant

Polyolefins producer Basell (Hoofddorp) has officially opened a 45,000 tonnes/yr capacity polybutene-1 (PB-1) plant in Moerdijk (both the Netherlands) which replaces a 25 tonnes/yr plant in Taft, LA that is being scrapped. The C4-based material is used for film packaging, pipes and fittings, conduits for aggressive or corrosive substances, and as a resin modifier. It sells for €3.50/kg and more depending on the grade. Nearly 25% is expected to be exported to North America.

Sergio Danesi, president of Basell''s advanced polyolefins business, says "demand is substantially below our new capacity but that says a lot about our confidence in the market growth potential [for PB-1]."

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