Monday, August 13, 2012

Argentine plastics firms pressured by trade limits, economy

Despite plastics production growth of 7.3 percent last year and an insatiable market with per capita consumption leading Latin America, Argentina’s plastics industry is nearing a panic level, facing concurrent threats of energy shortages, government restrictions on imports and U.S. dollars, rapid inflation and reduced demand from Brazil.

Argentina’s economy nearly doubled in size between 2003 and 2010, and unemployment hit a multi-year low of 7.1 percent in the first quarter of this year. But gross domestic product growth for the rest of the year is projected near zero by private-sector economists, and industries of all types are struggling with similar economic roadblocks.

The government is assessing a new 14 percent tariff on imports that compete with locally made goods, or blocking them outright by requiring written authorization and pre-approval requests for all imports. It’s also restricting foreign currency that companies can use to spend abroad, to ensure enough dollars are available for Argentina to pay its debt.

“Argentina is trying to protect its national plastics industry because we think 2012 is going to be a year of drastically reduced global consumption,” said Sergio Hilbrecht, sub-manager of Argentina’s plastics industry chamber, Cámara Argentina de la Industria Plástica (CAIP) in Buenos Aires.

“The [European Union], U.S. and Chinese economies aren’t growing enough, overwhelming the market with [cheap] plastics. There’s no end date set by our government for how long the import controls will last,” he said at Argenplás, held June 18-22 in Buenos Aires.

But Argentine manufacturers said the limitations put national industry at risk, because companies of all types depend heavily on raw material and parts imports — particularly plastics. Hector Mendez, former head of the Argentine Industrial Union and a plastics business executive, said earlier this year that the plastics industry will struggle as much as any in the nation with those restrictions.

The wait to import a foreign-made plastic injection mold — even when no domestic manufacturer offers the product — is now projected at 1? years and will suffocate growth opportunities for local producers, Mendez said.

On June 22, the U.S. demanded at the World Trade Organization that Argentina immediately end its import licensing scheme and tariffs against foreign suppliers. The WTO said it will decide this year if Argentina must lift some of the import restrictions.

Argentina’s economy is very close to a prolonged recession, according to a May report from the University of Torcuato di Tella (UTDT), a respected source in Argentina for economic forecasts. The nation’s top manufacturing industry, automobiles, reported January-May production was down 11 percent year-on-year. Auto exports, of which three-fourths have historically been sold to Brazil, were down 26? percent.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

GE Appliances to make more plastics parts in Louisville

GE Appliances  is signaling a big change in plastics parts sourcing in an expansion of its Louisville appliance products operation.

The firm said Aug. 6 that it will make more than 90 additional plastic parts and components for its dishwasher production expansion in Louisville. In-house dishwasher rack production will increase from 40 percent to 100 percent in Louisville’s dishwasher factory. As well, GE will expand inhouse production of metal components and back out overseas imports.

The inhouse sourcing program will make GE’s plastic injection molding facility at Appliance Park the largest such facility in Kentucky and the fourth largest in the United States, GE claims. In total, about 85 percent of the parts in the new dishwashers will be made in the United States.

Production for the first phase of a $150 million investment in the new dishwasher lines has begun. The project is part of an $800 million investment GE will have made at Appliance Park by 2014.

GE started the new Louisville in-house sourcing program in a modest scale in late 2011, according to a report in Business First. The program began with a 12-employee operation costing $2 million to start changing the way GE sources plastic parts in Louisville. The first components off the six new injection presses were plastic control panels for dishwashers made in Louisville. The molding operation included robots and other auxiliary equipment.

“To be competitive, we have to look for every opportunity to improve efficiencies and productivity while increasing quality,” noted GE Appliances product general manager for dishwashers, Cynthia Fanning. “Lean manufacturing principles have improved every aspect of our processes.”

GE reduced the size of the new dishwasher lines by more than 50 percent in the space-constrained factory. Repositioning the new lines cut transportation time within the plant. Workers’ input helped design work stations and processes, improving ergonomics, efficiency and quality. Production time per unit was cut by 65 percent.

The new dishwashers feature increased capacity and other innovations designed to encourage consumers to replace their older appliances with the new generation or to start a household with dishwashers offered by GE.
Other appliance majors do some inhouse plastics processing but GE seems ready to take that strategy to a new level.  Electrolux Group’s large refrigerator plant in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is one facility that  molds, forms and foams a large volume of plastics.

GE is spending $1 billion to upgrade all its product lines and create new plants for products not previously made in the United States. These products include its GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater plant in Louisville, and production of bottom-freezer refrigerators and front-loading clothes washing machines. The company said it plans to open a new plant to make front-loading washers and matching dryers in early 2013.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Visteon divests automotive lighting business to Indian firm

Visteon (Van Buren Township, MI) has completed the sale of its automotive lighting business to Indian company Varroc Group (Aurangabad), a global supplier of automotive parts including lighting and injection molded interior and exterior components, for approximately $72 million in cash. The two companies announced plans for the sale on March 12.

"This transaction completes an important step in our strategic plan to focus on our core businesses and strong joint venture relationships," says Don Stebbins, Visteon chairman, chief executive officer and president. Visteon's remaining product lines include climate, interiors, engine induction, and powertrain control.

Indian lighting system supplier Varroc is augmenting its global presence through acquisition of Visteon's lighting business.

The business sold to Varroc had 2011 revenue of $531 million and encompasses a wide range of exterior lighting products supplied to global vehicle manufacturers, including front and rear lighting systems, auxiliary lamps and key subcomponents such as projectors and electronic modules. It includes manufacturing and engineering facilities in Novy Jicin and Rychvald, Czech Republic; Monterrey, Mexico; and Pune, India.

In total, about 4,200 manufacturing, engineering and administrative employees, including 400 engineers, are part of the business sold to Varroc. The new business, will be called Varroc Lighting Systems, and will continue to be led by Jeff Stevenson, located in Van Buren

As also announced March 12 of this year, the two companies also have an agreement for Varroc to acquire Visteon's equity interest in a China-based lighting joint venture with Taiwanese partner TYC Brother Industrial (Tainan), Visteon TYC Corporation, for $20 million. That transaction is expected to be completed after Varroc finishes its due diligence process and other conditions are satisfied.

Varroc, meanwhile, has aggressive plans for growth in all the major automotive regions of the world leveraging its manufacturing footprints and major engineering centers located in low cost countries. European operations continue to perform well in spite of a difficult economic situation in the region according to Varroc. Along with expanding in global emerging markets, Varroc will also devote attention to the growing North American and India markets, where it says it is favorably positioned with well established lean manufacturing capabilities and capacities out of Apodaca, Mexico and Pune, India, respectively.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Italy’s machinery makers start well in 2012

Italy's imports and exports of plastics and rubber processing machinery continued to show positive trends in the first quarter of 2012, compared with the same period of 2011, with a 17% rise in overseas sales, said Assocomaplast, the Italian trade association for manufacturers of plastics and rubber machinery, equipment and moulds.

According to data from ISTAT (the Italian institute for statistics), this rise masks a “moderate slowdown” in extrusion plants and injection moulding machines, whilst exports of moulds and blow-moulding machines showed a positive outlook.

The sector also saw a 22% rise in imports, driven by increased purchasing of mould and extruders, according to a 3 July statement from the Italian association.

Looking at the top destinations for Italy's exports, Assocomaplast said Germany showed "considerable growth" (19%) to almost €90m, made up of two thirds moulds.

Conversely, sales to China dipped by 19% and the country slipped to third position, with some €34m, said Assocomaplast.

Sales to France, in second place, rose by 37%, to the US by 34%, Poland by 30%, Brazil 28% and Turkey 17%.

For machinery for reactive resins, imports fell slightly to Euro 203 000, while exports rose 3% to €8.1m. For machines for foamed materials, imports were static at €865 000, while exports fell 5% to €4.9m.