Volume 50, Issue 10 - October 2015

Got Those Motors Running
Growing Interest and Construction Activity Bring A Healthy Demand for Machinery and Equipment
by Ellen Rogers

Times certainly have changed for machinery suppliers. Six years ago, the industry may have seemed a bit “desolate,” according to Matt Tangemen, president of Custom Glass Machinery Ltd. in Hilliard, Ohio. Now it’s the opposite.

“It’s a healthy market,” Tangeman says.

Jim Hartley is Midwest sales engineer with Glaston America, based in Mt. Laurel, N.J. He agrees.

“The market is very busy. There’s lots of quoting and customers are shopping,” he says. “A few years ago, customers were buying on price. They bought what wasn’t necessarily the best, but what they could afford. Now, they buy what they want.”

“The market is quite good and has been getting better and better each year since 2011,” agrees Michael Spellman, president of IGE Solutions in Jupiter, Fla. “We have seen growth across all lines of our machinery, and feel that the positive trend in fabrication machinery sales will continue to grow for the foreseeable future … Labor is scarce and fabricators must automate as much as possible.”

But what are some of the biggest changes? And what types of equipment are fabricators buying?

Roller coaters, which can add details and aesthetics to glass, have been popular as fabricators look for ways to diversify.

On the Upswing

Aside from simply being busier now than in previous years, machinery suppliers point to several other key differences. For example, Hartley says when business was slower, “we were knocking on doors, and now customers are calling us for quotes and telling us what they are looking for. Before [suppliers] were searching more for it, but now, with the seeds planted during the bad economy, customers are calling us and they are ready to do business.”

Customers were less forthcoming with information about their needs during the slow economy, another difference Hartley mentions.

“They didn’t share a lot of information. Now they call us and give us the specifics as to what they want the equipment to do rather than just saying ‘I need an edger,’” says Hartley. “Now they tell us the number of shower doors they need to do, the sizes, etc.”

Spellman says this past recession was terrible for sales of glass fabrication equipment.

“Interestingly, the prior recessions yielded some very good sales,” he says. “This was because of the few larger fabricators that saw these recessions as an opportunity to tool up for the upcoming return of the business. The last recession, however, seemed to put a hold on purchases for both small and large fabricators. As a result, many now have had to catch up.” 

Nancy Mammaro, president of the Italian company Mappi, adds that her company is also seeing a very active market.

“The current market is really busy, so it seems that many companies are investing in new equipment and they are looking to make solid, long-term investments,” says Mammaro. “The majority [of companies] are looking [to buy] technical safety [glass] machines … they are looking not only at the price but also at all of the characteristics of a machine.”

Hal Strait, with Glass Machine Sales, a machinery manufacturer’s agent, says that given the strength of the market, fabricators are now focusing on equipment capabilities, energy efficiency, and other features and benefits rather than focusing primarily on investment costs.

“This is not to say that cost is not an important factor because it obviously still plays a major role in any investment decision, but other factors are now becoming equally important criteria for buyers,” he says.

Some manufacturers and suppliers report they are seeing a healthy market for tempering equipment.

What’s Hot?

A productive construction environment has helped keep many glass companies busy, and for some this is driving the need for new equipment. Hartley says CNC equipment for shower door fabrication has been a busy segment.

But that’s just the start.

“Pretty much everything [is in demand] …edging, cutting, shower door equipment … it’s across the board,” says Hartley. “That’s because more companies are fabricating their own [doors] rather than going through the big fabricators,” he says. “I see a lot of [mid-sized] companies upgrading because they want better delivery and quality so they can control production and fabricate themselves.”

Tangeman points out that both the edging market as well as the tempering market are healthy, and adds that laminating also seems to be doing well.

“At one time, the vacuum bag laminating ovens were popular, but that’s no longer the case necessarily because you can’t really do PVB with those ovens. So I’ve seen a shift to other methods of laminating,” he says.

John Lloyd, vice president of Matodi in Greensboro, N.C., adds, “Machinery for decorative, laminating and the ability to process larger glass seem to be generating the most interest at this time. Fabricators are looking to break out and find a new niche … I hear a lot of people talking about digital printing and laminating.”

He adds that straight-line beveling seems to be quiet, though Italian-made machinery seems in demand.

Spellman says the last few years of the recovery have brought strong sales in the “basics”: tempering furnaces, glass cutting and handling lines, glass washing machines and glass polishers.

“Now we are seeing business also in the other areas of glass fabrication such as CNC work stations, CNC water jets, CNC drilling and milling and CNC straight-line polishing machines,” he says.

According to Strait, customers are focused on equipment that provides improved operational efficiencies and higher-quality, value-added product fabrication capabilities.

“This has translated into a high interest in tempering furnaces with recirculating convection technology, digital printers and roller coaters that can produce value-added decorative products, and glass storage and handling systems that improve floor space utilization, reduce labor and provide a safer work environment,” he says, explaining that much of this interest stems from glass fabricators striving to improve operating margins.

A Tough Sell?

No matter how busy the market, machinery suppliers still have obstacles to overcome. One in particular is an increasingly competitive sales environment. Hartley mentions the influx of Chinese suppliers.

“They’ve come in with low prices and equipment. [Over the years] the equipment has gotten better, but the prices are still low. That makes it hard to compete,” he says. “When you’re competing against quality competitors, you’re selling the machine. With Chinese companies, it’s price.”

Strait says that while the U.S. machinery market is relatively strong, the machinery market in Europe remains weak.

“So equipment suppliers are focusing their sales efforts in the U.S. and, consequently, there is a lot of competition. Incorporating new electronic technology into the equipment is challenging because of the pace and costs of electronic development. So, for example, having equipment with the latest touchscreen controls systems can be a challenge.”

For Tangeman, the biggest “is getting people to spend a little extra to do it right vs. just getting by,” he says. “And that’s a sector of the market that shops on price and is not looking down the road at the cost of ownership over time.”

Suppliers are also working hard to keep lead times to a minimum.

“The biggest challenges we face now are keeping manufacturers’ lead times where we want them, which is 90 days or less,” adds Spellman.

Lloyd adds that lead times with machinery from overseas suppliers are always an issue, but he also points out another concern. “The uncertainty of the stock market and the Federal Reserve seems to be causing potential machinery buyers to be cautious before making a purchase.”

Still, fabricators seem to be buying or are making plans to do so soon. To see how these purchases have evolved over the past decade, take a look at our machinery purchase survey results starting on page 40.

the author
Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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