In the early days of injection molding, say the 1950s through the early 1970s, the United States was largely self-sufficient in the supply of injection molding machinery. William Willert, VP engineering at Egan Machinery, pioneered development of the ground-breaking reciprocating screw (there were counter German and French claims).
There was a gold’s rush of machine development and the American industry flourished with players such as Egan Machinery, Somerville, N.J.; HPM, Mt. Gilead, Ohio; New Britain Machine Co., New Britain, Conn.; National Automatic Tool Co. (Natco), Richmond, Ind.; Van Dorn, Strongsville, Ohio; Waldron-Hartig, New Brunswick, N.J.; Reed-Prentice, East Longmeadow, Mass.; and Newbury Industries, Newbury, Ohio.
Cincinnati Milacron decided to enter the plastics machinery business and became a major player. But there was some arrogance among a few of the old timers who didn’t want to abandon their market position in the old-dated and doomed plunger technology. There was in fact a general arrogance among American manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s, and a disregard for the importance of technological change and the importance of global competitiveness.
We paid a steep price. All of the American molding machinery companies went bankrupt or went out of business.
Now there is a bit of a resurgence. At an open house last week, Milacron showed that is has emerged from bankruptcy with a strong product lineup and a robust manufacturing presence in Batavia, Ohio. Engel, an Austrian company which is the largest injection molding machinery builder in Eruope, has a strong and growing manufacturing presence in York, Pa.
And there is now some manufacturing at the old HPM and Van Dorn sites in Ohio.
In 2011, Chinese machinery company Yizumi purchased all the patented technology and other assets of HPM, and is now using its Mount Gilead site as a beachhead for North American sales. Hydraulics and electrics are added in the United States. Other customization is also performed at the site. The first machine was recently shipped to Pleasant Precision, an old fan of the big iron HPM machines. Credit Bill Flickinger, former (and last) HPM president for keeping the flame alive.
Japanese machine builder Sumitomo is taking a similar, and even larger-scale tack with Van Dorn, which has a substantial number of legacy customers in the United States. On April 10, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag had an open house in Strongsville to show off its new technical and remanufacturing center.
There are other potential investors in machine rebuilding and finishing in the United States. A leading candidate is Haitian of China, which is now the global market leader in injection molding machinery. The company is very interested in the U.S. market and could expand presence through its Absolute Haitian unit, which is opening a technical center in Parma, Ohio next month.
The U.S. will never be the market for injection molding machinery it was 15 or 20 years ago, but it’s important to maintain technical and manufacturing presence. Never was that so apparent when Apple and Liquidmetal Technologies needed a technical partner. Engel Machinery made a huge contribution.