Manufacturers of metal-cutting machines are shearing prices to generate sales amid a global slump in machinery demand brought on by lower energy prices and reduced investment in high-tech equipment.
Orders in the U.S. for computer-guided cutting machines used in factories and machine shops were down 16% during the first half of the year compared with 2015, according the Association for Manufacturing Technology, a Virginia-based trade association for the machine tools industry.
“Because the market is down all the builders are offering incentives,” said Scott Camloh,North America sales manager for Hurco Companies Inc., an Indianapolis-based maker of precision cutting machines. In addition to discounts, manufacturers offered extended warranties and other incentives to ring up sales during the industry’s biennial trade show in Chicago last week. Discounts and other incentives varied based on the size of orders. Some savvy customers pitted one sales-hungry machine maker against another to secure even more concessions.
“We had to follow suit just to get in the door,” Mr. Camloh said, adding that Hurco set a sales record during the first half of the show.
Jerry McCarty, Americas chief operating officer for SMTCL, a Chinese manufacturer of metal-cutting equipment, said the show also helped line up customers who might be willing to commit to a purchase a few months from now.
Ben Smeding, the owner of Smeding Performance, which produces custom-built engine components near San Antonio, Texas, said he senses a greater willingness by companies to cut deals this year. “The oil industry in the U.S. is basically collapsing,” he said, which means he sees machine makers hunting for new customers.
Machining businesses with exposure to the energy industry have sharply curtailed their equipment purchases in the past two years because of lower prices for oil and natural gas. Markets for construction, mining and farm machinery also have been under pressure because of slumping prices for grain and mined commodities.
Still, the aerospace industry, medical equipment manufacturing and car makers remain pockets of strength for machinery builders. A resurgent U.S. automotive industry lifted the metal-cutting industry out of a severe slump caused by the 2008 recession. Some shop owners now worry the prolonged stretch of growth in the auto industry is running out of gas.
Mr. Smeding bought a new lathe at the Chicago show for $200,000 to replace two aging machines at his plant.
“It’s costing us more by not being efficient, so it was time to upgrade,” he said.
Slow-growing economies are providing businesses little incentive to buy new equipment or hire more employees that require equipment.
“We haven’t laid anybody off, but at the same time we’re always looking out for what we’re going to do next week,” said Bill Mach, president of Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Mach Mold Inc., which has 45 employees and produces metal molds to make plastic auto components. Mr. Mach said demand for molds has been stagnant because auto makers haven’t significantly revamped their vehicle lineups lately, which would require new molds be created.
Factory shipments of new metal-cutting machines this year are expected to be down about 14% from 2015 to $7.2 billion with machine orders expected to fall about 12%.
The manufacturing technology association expects shipments to be flat to slight down next year, but predicts orders will climb about 10% in response to the auto industry’s pursuit of more fuel-efficient pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles.
“That’s going to require some additional capital investment,” said Pat McGibbon, vice president of the association.
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