Volume 11, Issue 6 - July/August 2010

feature

Buyers’ Market?
Equipment Suppliers Say Manufacturers Are Looking to New Investments
by Penny Stacey

It’s no secret that the door and window market has been struggling for some time, as a result of a housing market in crisis and a tough economy in general. But in recent months some have started to see signs of an uptick.

One of the best measures of how manufacturers are doing can be seen in their investments—including purchases of machinery and equipment for the factories. And, from this standpoint, many machinery suppliers say they are starting to see some positive signs—even if many of them are for future months.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in quoting activity,” says Mike Biffl, national sales manager for Sturtz Machinery in Cleveland. “People are planning, more for the second half of the year, but we have secured a couple of nice orders recently.”

Rick Wilson, director of sales and marketing for Joseph Machine Co. in Dillsburg, Pa., echoes Biffl.

“Things are starting to pick up a little bit,” says Wilson. “We definitely are seeing more interest in new quotes.”

And Paul Van Kempen, general manager for Erdman Automation Corp. in Princeton, Minn., says he’s seeing a bit of a bounce-back from the manufacturers his company serves.

“We have experienced an upswing in business, and some revival of manufacturers,” he says.

Though he points out the company isn’t seeing as many new customers, its existing ones are busy.

“Our existing customers seem to have business going on, and it has spurred them to buy some equipment,” says Van Kempen.

The range of equipment varies, too.

“We’ve seen an upswing in retrofits from existing machinery as well as [purchases of] full automated lines,” adds Van Kempen.

And Steve Waltman, vice president of sales and marketing for Stiles Machinery in Grand Rapids, Mich., says those customers that aren’t looking for quotes still are looking—even if it’s just for information.

“[They’re] not necessarily [investing] in machinery, per se, but it’s in techniques and discussions about any new opportunities, particularly as it relates to new materials, new capabilities and so on,” he says. “[There’s been] a lot of conversation, a lot of investigation, a lot of time spent familiarizing themselves with opportunity and processes—so investment not so much, but investing a lot of time and opportunity, that’s for sure.”

Dave Schmucker, president of Global Sales Group in Chico, Calif., says he hasn’t seen any major changes—but does think things seem to be on the upward move.

“Some months can be better, some worse,” he says. “But overall if I had to see a trend, there’s a small improvement, better than it was a year ago.”

"[Buying used equipment] comes with some problems, of course, because if they buy at auction they don’t get the backing of the [original equipment manufacturer]. I’ve had some customers who bought [used equipment] at auctions and wish they didn’t."
—Robert Mitvalsky, Builders Automation

The Cause
One positive boon to the industry has been the federal tax credit programs for qualified energy-efficient doors and windows.

“My opinion is that the people that are buying right now are building the type of window that fits into the category for the [tax credit],” says Van Kempen.

Becoming leaner to save money in a down economy also plays a role.

“[We’re seeing] a variety of things, and it’s particular to the different markets we serve,” says Wilson, “but it’s mostly [customers] looking for automated equipment to eliminate mistakes, waste and scrap.”

Waltman agrees. “First and foremost it seems [manufacturers are looking] at the idea of maximizing the whole speed-to-market scenario, delivering greater variety, [shorter] lead times and at the same time they’re incorporating all these new materials,” he says.

Biffl is finding that customers are looking for all types of equipment, too, including sawing, fabrication, welding and cleaning machinery.

And Wilson adds that many manufacturers who’ve survived the downturn simply are just tired of waiting to invest in new equipment.

“There are certainly a group of customers that want to hear what we have to offer, but are still waiting,” he says. “But there is another group of customers who are tired of waiting and are moving forward with their existing plans.”

"There are certainly a group of customers that want to hear what we have to offer, but are still waiting. But there is another group of customers who are tired of waiting and are moving forward with their existing plans."
—Rick Wilson, Joseph Machinery

The Flip Side
Though many are seeing some positive signs, there are still many manufacturers enduring the slump of the economy.

Dave Deibel, market development manager for Nordson Corp. in Duluth, Ga., doesn’t think the downturn is quite over.

“Overall the door and window market is struggling,” he says. “From our perspective, we’re not seeing much activity at all.”

Robert Mitvalsky, chief executive officer of Builders Automation in Largo, Fla., agrees.

“I’m not seeing any sustained revival,” he says. “I’m seeing areas, particularly around the Washington, D.C., area … with some increases in business, but it’s spotty.”

And Mitvalsky’s business, which services both perishable tooling for machinery, machinery and servicing machinery, can provide a decent gauge on the market, he says.

“If perishable tooling goes up, that means people are making more product and are using more tooling,” he says.

"[Manufacturers are] not necessarily [investing] in machinery, per se, but it’s in techniques and discussions about any new opportunities, particularly as it relates to new materials, new capabilities and so on."
—Steve Waltman, Stiles Machinery

But lately, he’s been seeing more and more manufacturers looking to service their existing machinery.

“I’m sometimes booked up three to five weeks out on service repair, and what that means to me is that six months to a year ago the customers were either trying to fix [the machinery] themselves, or that they weren’t using it,” says Mitvalsky. “Either the volume of work must have picked up, or the machines have gotten so far in disrepair from no use that they need fixed. Now they are wanting the machines to run.”

Even for manufacturers that are looking for new equipment, Deibel says sometimes it’s almost too easily available—which is good for manufacturers, but tough on machinery suppliers.

“There’s been so much consolidation and reduction in facilities and plant closings that there is a plethora of equipment out there,” he says. “ … We’re finding that with the economy where it’s at and all the extra equipment, people are buying machinery for pennies on the dollar.”

And, for manufacturers, this can backfire, says Mitvalsky.

“[Buying used equipment] comes with some problems, of course, because if they buy at auction they don’t get the backing of the [original equipment manufacturer],” he says. “I’ve had some customers who bought [used equipment] at auctions and wish they didn’t.”

Waltman also cautions against this.

“With [used] equipment for things that you make, you lose not only in terms of productivity but also with software integration,” he says. “You’re not getting the energy ratings, etc. You might gain on the dollar investment, but you’re falling behind on the cost-competitive curve.”

The Future
While manufacturers vary in how they look at machinery investments in today’s market, many suggest this is actually a time that manufacturers should take advantage.

“Generally you would imagine that the pressures of day-to-day production are unfortunately not what they might otherwise be … ” says Waltman. “Now is actually the time to spend building for next year.”

Penny Stacey is the assistant editor of DWM magazine.


DWM

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