Business levels for manufacturers and suppliers of primary plastics machinery (injection molding, extrusion, blow molding, and thermoforming equipment) improved smartly in the third quarter of 2013. According to statistics compiled and reported by the Committee on Equipment Statistics of the Society of the Plastics Industry, shipments of primary plastics equipment for reporting companies totaled an estimated $3276 million in Q3.

This total represented a gain of 20% when compared with the total from the second quarter of this year, and it was also an increase of 20% when compared with the total from the third quarter of 2012. This was the strongest quarterly total all year, and for the year to date the total value for primary plastics equipment shipments is up 12% when compared with last year.

Taking a closer look at the data, shipments of injection molding machinery were up 20% in the third quarter when compared with the same quarter of a year ago. Shipments of single-screw extruders advanced 9%, and shipments of twins-screw escalated 12%. Shipments of new thermoforming equipment spiked up 50% in Q3 when compared with last year.

The CES also compiles data on the auxiliary equipment segment (robotics, temperature control, materials handling, etc.) of the plastics machinery industry. New bookings of auxiliary equipment for reporting companies totaled $99.9 million dollars in Q3. This represented a vigorous 12% increase when compared with the total from the second quarter of this year. Precise year-ago comparisons for the auxiliary equipment data are not possible at the present time due to a significant change in the number of reporting companies for 2013. But it can be reasonably concluded that the four-year uptrend in this data continued, and the quarterly and year-to-date totals for 2013 represent a solid gain when compared with last year.

The strong rise in the CES data on plastics machinery shipments compares favorably to the solid gains in the two major US data series compiled by the federal government that measure activity levels in the industrial machinery sector. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, business investment in industrial equipment advanced 5% (seasonally-adjusted, annualized rate) in the third quarter when compared with last year. The other important machinery market indicator, compiled by the Census Bureau, showed that the total value of US shipments of industrial machinery advanced by 13% in Q3.

“These data indicate that the recovery in the plastics machinery sector remains intact, and it may even be gaining momentum," according to Bill Wood, the plastics market economist who analyzes and reports on this market sector for the CES. "The national level data suggest that the economy has yet to hit the sweet spot of the capital expenditure phase of the current recovery. This could start to happen as early as 2014, and when it does it should result in even stronger gains for the plastics machinery sector," says Wood.

The CES also conducts a quarterly survey of plastics machinery suppliers that asks about present market conditions and expectations for the future. The responses from the Q3 survey reveal an upbeat attitude that is broad-based across the industry. When asked about expectations for future market conditions, 87% of the respondents expect conditions to stay the same or even improve in the coming quarter, and 92% expect them to hold steady or get better during the next year.

 North America and Mexico are the regions where the strongest gains are expected, but a strong majority also predicts that Europe, Asia, and Latin America will be steady-to-better. As for the major end-markets, the respondents expect that automotive, medical, and packaging will continue to be the strongest in terms of demand for plastics products and equipment. The industrial, construction, electronics, and appliance sectors are all expected to hold firm or even improve next year.