Is there a chance to renew life and competitiveness into the American molding industry?
The industry withered and had almost become close to extinction following the growth of outsourcing in the late 1990s and the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. And now it’s showing signs of renewed activity.
Growing “Made In The U.S.A.” Consciousness
In New England, a growing, small-scale toy manufacturer is pulling out its tools and equipment from China and for the first time, is establishing its manufacturing presence in a new building in the United States. A non-U.S. electronics contract manufacturer is now establishing its first US molding plant at the request of a Fortune 500 retailer expanding its “Made in the USA” branding.
Surprising Comeback Of The Once Defunct Molding Industry
Who says that the molding industry will even bounce back after molding equipment had been auctioned week after week at the height of the downturn? It wasn’t a likely occurrence than when the quarterly sales of primary plastic manufacturing and plastic extrusion machinery dipped to around $75 million in 2009 versus $280 million in 2005, based on reports from the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). The plummeting sales levels bounced back in 2011 and 2012 to an unbelievable $300 million and continued to grow in the last three quarters, much to the surprise of even the experts and key players in the industry.
Innovative Solutions And Efficiencies
According to William R. Carteaux, President and CEO of SPI, “The industry explored and found innovative solutions and efficiencies to keep its competitiveness, and by expanding its global reach to new markets.”
Several encouraging growth signs and new shoring trends are evident and expected to continue to offer a local manufacturing option for buyers and consumers of plastic goods who do not want to deal with all the issues involved in outsourcing to Chinese companies. Issues such as lack of supply chain accountability and increasing labor costs have caused many U.S. manufacturing firms in China to pull out and go back to U.S. soil.
Chain Reaction Towards Growth
Increased demand for domestic production has triggered a chain reaction in the molding industry. Some of the U.S. manufacturing firms that show a spike in their production activities include:
- OYO Sportstoys of Acton in Massachusetts is installing its first injection molding equipment in order to respond quickly to customer demand for licensed sports figurines that are produced in a season.
- Wittman Battenfeld had a new 20,000 sq ft. facility added to its existing assembly center in Connecticut.
- Cincinnati Milacron, a major player in the plastics machinery business that went bankrupt in 2009 is now showing signs of manufacturing activities under the ownership of a major global equity firm.
- Engel Machinery, a major competitor of Milacron is bustling with production activities in Pennsylvania.
In response to the growing market, three Asian manufacturers are reported to be considering at least some U.S. assembly of injection molding machinery. The influx of equipment and new players is helping the U.S. molders to become more competitive, according to industry experts.
Improvements are observed in the following manufacturing aspects:
- Specialization. Molders focus on higher value-added operations and markets. Medical equipment manufacturing is a fast growing specialization.
- Automation. The use of robotics in assembly lines causes a substantial decrease in manpower costs making the products competitive.
- Quality. Scientific molding practices are learned to reach greater repeatability and dimensional stability.
With all this happening, the American molding industry will regain its lost status in manufacturing sooner than later.