Grace: Can Machinery Investments Help Companies During a Down Economy?
The Italian Trade Commission announced recently that the value
of U.S. imported Italian machinery in 2008, including glass machinery,
saw significant growth in 2008 compared to years prior. Italian
glass machinery specifically was reported to have increased 7.4
percent ($26 million)--though U.S. glass machinery imports overall
While the numbers may look positive, some machinery experts say
the increase may not be completely reflective of current conditions,
as they say glass machinery sales were down last year.
According to Mike Willard, executive vice president of Salem Distributing
Co. in Winston-Salem, N.C., which represents several Italian machinery
companies, the numbers might also not be reflective of the fluctuating
"Plus, those figures could be skewed from the purchase of
one or two major lines," adds Willard.
Michael Spellman, president of Jupiter, Fla.-based IGE Solutions
Inc., which also represents a number of Italian manufacturers, does
agree that 2008 was a good year for the Italian suppliers.
"We had our best year in 2008 with our long-standing Italian
client Forvet," says Spellman. "We were up more than 300
percent in 2008 compared to any other year."
He says while they had started to see the economy going down very
late in 2007/early 2008, they really did not know what to expect.
But he says that in 2008 many companies still had money to spend
and still had access to money. He adds that many machinery purchases/capital
investments had been in planning stages since 2005, 2006 or 2007.
Spellman also gives a lot of credit to how focused the Italian
companies are, saying many of them have been working with glass
processing machinery for more than 30 years.
"The Italians will always be a force in the marketplace because
they are fine engineers, they have beautiful style and experience
in the glass industry," says Spellman.
While 2008 may have been a good year, the forecast for 2009 does
not look as encouraging. According to Spellman, there is still sales
"Right now we are seeing the large players will not release
any money for capital expenditures until at least April. Where we
are seeing some activity is at the mid- to small-size company level-the
companies that have kept lean during the good times, who have money
and want to step up to the next level. Those are the companies taking
steps toward fabrication and [producing] safety glass," Spellman
And though the market for traditional glass and other building
products may be slow, now may be just the time to explore new markets.
Willard says they have had a lot of interest recently in their
new HOAF laminating line, which does not require the expense of
"This is one way companies can get started with custom laminating,"
says Willard. "It also allows them to get started in the decorative
business, creating products for applications such as partitions
and skylights." He continues, "We are trying to show customers
how they can create new avenues for growth."
Spellman has a similar view. "Companies could focus on other
areas to utilize the equipment that they already have, which could
allow them to penetrate other markets," he says. For example,
Spellman recently traveled to Australia where he saw many fabricators
producing backsplashes for kitchens and bathrooms. The backsplashes
were made through the use of the same equipment many companies in
the United States use-a tempering oven and low-iron glass.
"Companies here already have the capabilities to do something
like that, and it's a minimal investment to get started," Spellman
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