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July 1, 2006

8 Min Read
Short Shots

Meaning sapphire in German, Zhafir will build machines in Germany for the Asian market.

THE EURASIAN CONNECTION
If that headline has you scratching your head, try this: Zhafir Plastics Machinery has been set up in Germany with funding from investors including Jianming Zhang, CEO of Chinese machine maker Ningbo Haitian, and Helmar Franz, the former head of Demag Plastics Group (DPG), with the goal of developing a line of all-electric injection machines up to about 500 tons. The initial sales target for these EIMs will be the high-end segment of the Asian markets.

Can you say global? We sure hope so.

Zhafir (sapphire in German) is building a manufacturing facility in a small town near Nürnberg and expects to start production in early 2008. The administrative and R&D facilities will be open by the end of this year. The company is organizationally independent of Ningbo Haitian to set it apart from Haitian’s base of low- and midmarket machine buyers, but Franz says a sales/service agreement that leveraged Haitian’s growing sales network would make sense. That will be spelled out toward the end of the development of the new electric machines.

The intention is to combine principal components based on Western technology standards, other modules sourced from China, and basic parts from Eastern Europe. Zhafir is also able to leverage Haitian’s volume purchasing power for much of this, which is good since Franz says it expects to sell a high-end machine at an attractive price.

Why Asia first? Zhafir sources estimate that around 20% of the 71,000-plus IMs sold annually in Asia are high-enders, and they say that should grow to around 30% by 2010. Why make them in Europe? Franz says the technology is there, but also cites a cultural factor.

According to Zhafir, Chinese manufacturers and the Chinese in general prefer to buy the new and throw away the old. This applies more or less across the board, and includes machinery. Europeans, and Germans in particular, by and large embrace the concept of refurbishment, so they build products, particularly machinery, to last for a long time.

Franz says Zhafir’s standard machines will be equipped with features that are usually options on other electrics. That is double good news for the buyer: First, the machine has more capability from the get-go, and second, a simplified manufacturing process—options are added separate from the primary build process—reduces production time and cost, enabling better selling prices.—RN

MASSACHUSETTS HAITIANS
Absolute Haitian Corp. (AHC; Worcester, MA) is a new business venture formed to be the exclusive U.S. and Canadian supplier of injection presses built by Ningbo Haitian International Co. Ltd. (Ningbo, China). With annual sales of more than 14,000 units, it is reported to be the world’s largest manufacturer of molding machines. AHC was formed in June by Mike Ortolano and Nate Smith of Absolute Machinery, a machinery rep firm based in Worcester, and by Glenn W. Frohring, formerly of the Demag Plastics Group (Strongsville, OH), who now serves as AHC’s VP of sales and marketing. Call (508) 792-4305 for more information.—CK

MICRO SHOTS

Albis closes North American operation
Albis Plastic GmbH, based in Hamburg, Germany, is closing its North American compounding facility in Rosenberg, TX. It intends to keep a local presence with a team of commercial and technical specialists to service customers. Product development and production will be handled from the company’s European compounding plants.—RN

Cimatron online seminar
More than 400 tooling execs sat in on a recent online seminar (webinar) put together by CAD/CAM systems provider Cimatron Ltd. titled “Tool Shop Optimization: Why Technology is Not Enough.” The presentation included an eight-step methodology developed by Cimatron to help tool shops address issues through analyzing and optimizing their businesses from quoting to delivery. More at www.cimatrontech.com.—RN

PPE expands
Plastic Process Equipment (PPE; Macedonia, OH) has moved its Florida warehouse and office to a new facility in Odessa, FL that increases PPE’s space in the Sunshine State from 10,000 to 25,000 ft². PPE says its growing line of molding accessories plus a growing customer base drove the move.—RN

THIXOMAT SETTLES WITH NISSEI
In early March, Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd. (Nagano, Japan) reached a settlement with Thixomat Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI) in the Tokyo District Court that will allow Nissei to produce and sell its magnesium molding machines free from any concern over infringing on patents Thixomat holds for its Thixomolding process. The settlement also allows the sale and export of magnesium products run on Nissei’s machines.

Thixomat reportedly will pay Nissei a settlement fee of an undisclosed amount.

The original lawsuit stemmed from Thixomat’s distribution of documents in early 2001 to Japanese licensees of Nissei’s Mg Series presses and molding technology, reportedly claiming that they were infringing upon many of Thixomat’s patents. Nissei sought damages and brought its case to the Tokyo District Court in February 2004. The court set forth a settlement proposal and Nissei accepted it on March 6 of this year, rather than pursuing a prolonged court case.

According to terms in the settlement, Nissei’s Mg molding machines do not infringe upon Thixomat’s patents when material in the barrel is in a fully molten state and when a screw extruder is not used.

Nissei currently markets its 154-ton/120-cc Model FMg 3000 press for molding magnesium. Company sources say plans are in the works to ramp up marketing efforts and to introduce new machine sizes for molding larger magnesium parts.—CK

LONG-FIBER CAPACITY
RTP Co. (Winona, MN) recently has boosted its Long Fiber Compound (LFC) technology via more capacity, additional key people, and a broader product offering, including a wider array of resin systems (e.g. PBT, PPA, PEEK) and cross-functional technologies such as flame retardance, wear resistance, and conductivity. A new LFC facility near RTP’s headquarters is the most notable investment, but other facilities around the globe have added long-fiber lines as well. High glass loading was introduced in 2005 and stainless steel concentrates are now available with a variety of resins.—RN

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
At least they are to Ron Brown, chairman, president, and CEO of Milacron Inc. (Batavia, OH). Speaking at an NPE 2006 press preview in May, Brown said that five years of consolidated sales show a slow but steady recovery for the company, involving continuous new product introductions, expanded global distribution, and a growing aftermarket business.

In Q1 2006, Brown says Milacron experienced 11% overall growth, its highest since Q4 2000. Its growth included 20% gains in emerging markets, 17% growth in its machinery markets, and a 10% rise in its aftermarket businesses.

With charts compiling data Milacron drew from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and the Society of the Plastics Industry, Brown presented data illustrating slow but steady industry-wide growth that could lead to even better times ahead for his company (see Figure 1).

For example, he said that the industry’s capacity utilization topped out at 90.2% in March (see Figure 2). This was driven by several factors, including: the need for cost and fuel savings in automotive and packaging; the strength, versatility, and public acceptance of plastic building materials; and the expanding use of healthcare devices.

“Many processors are at a capacity limit and lean manufacturing initiatives have raised the stakes on downtime,” he said. “The premiums put on service to increase productivity and extend machine life are increasing the demands for upgrades to existing equipment.”

Comparing capacity utilization (Figure 3, in red) and industry orders (in gray, showing a 12/12, or year-over-year, rate of change), Brown said he believes that a pent-up demand is building for new machine purchases. Although he admits that an occasional lag or disconnect is common, he said that machinery orders have historically followed utilization trends.“The reluctance to commit to capital purchases is understandable, but not likely to persist,” he said.

For those reluctant to buy brand-new equipment, Brown reminds us that Milacron also provides comprehensive machine remanufacturing services, another company business that he says is doing quite well.—CK

MANNESMANN COMPANIES HAVE NEW OWNERS
Three of the major European-based makers of injection molding machines changed owners recently when Madison Capital Partners (Chicago, IL) acquired Mannesmann Plastics Machinery (Munich, Germany). The MPM group of companies includes IM makers Demag Plastics Group, Krauss-Maffei, and Netstal, as well as extruder maker Berstorff. In February 2006 MPM sold off its French molding machine maker Billion to a management buyout.

MPM’s previous owner, Demag Holding, was 81% owned by the investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. Germany-based multinational Siemens owned the remaining 19%. Madison Capital owns, or has owned and sold, a number of plastics industry supply-side firms, such as Brown Machine, Epco, and Synventive, as well as several processors. A few years ago, Madison attempted to acquire machine maker Battenfeld but the deal was called off.

The MPM group’s combined sales for its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2005 amounted to a1.3 billion ($1.64 billion). The purchase price was undisclosed, and it was not known whether the portion of ownership held by MPM management would remain the same. Over the past few years, there has been buzz as to whether the group would be held together or sold off separately. At one point a transaction was initiated to sell Netstal to a Swiss investor, but it was not concluded. MPM says that Madison Capital supports its multibrand strategy. The acquisition agreement was signed at the end of May and was expected to close by mid-July.—RN

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