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Setup: Today never happened before

History has given us no map for the world in which we now find ourselves. Take the concept of “local” as a simple example. Many of us recall being able to visit any of our customers—and maybe our suppliers—by car within an hour or two. What do we mean by “local” now?

I wrote last month that the recent K 2007 show in Germany proved that globalization is already a reality for us molding types, and that the globalization is a work-in-progress, constantly morphing. Such a configuration of the world is unprecedented. What’s happening right now has never happened before, which makes it much, much tougher to figure out what’s coming next.

For instance, I was at first surprised in mid-December to read media reports that aircraft maker Airbus is thinking about enlarging its U.S. manufacturing operations. Really? It has a rationale that makes sense: The company currently builds planes in countries that use the euro, but it sells planes globally in dollars. EADS, the parent company of Airbus, noted that a $0.10 decrease in the dollar’s rate against the euro costs it about a billion euros in earnings.

I wouldn’t go looking for Airbus RFPs just yet. The company has put no time frame on this. But they know they need to solve the problem ASAP as they are also saying that U.S. policy is to drive the dollar’s value still lower.

Would it not be simply amazing if this type of move became a trend? Yes, it would, but right now we’ve got to work with the reality we’ve got. I took a look at the U.S. Commerce Dept.’s data on molding machine imports for 2007 as of the end of October. The United States has imported almost 21% fewer injection presses than at the same point in 2006. Plant closings such as the Hoover vacuum cleaner facility in Ohio that dropped more than 70 used machines onto the market in November continue to slow the sale of new machines—imports or domestic.

On a larger scale, the continuing talk of a possible U.S. economic recession some time this year is throwing a wet blanket on many plant expansion and modernization plans. Even with the overall industrial capacity utilization rate around 85%, which is at or above the level that used to kick off expansion, factory managers are looking to make better use of what they’ve got before signing a P.O. for something new.

Now, you might think—given all this change and unpredictability—that I’d be happy to hear something that hasn’t changed. Yes, I would, but not when it’s molders and moldmakers (some, definitely not all) saying they don’t really need to sell. “We don’t even have a sales or marketing person.” Their reputation has always brought in business, they proudly say, along with their quality.

That sounded a lot better before my e-mail inbox began popping open messages from molders and moldmakers in China wanting to make something for me. Since that now happens virtually every day, it makes me wonder how many of these reach actual OEMs.

Rob Neilley, Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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