Cutting Tool Sales Lag; IMTS Is (as Usual) a Hit

TN_Machining_Pic AMT president Doug Woods sits in the Strati, the first car produced by additive manufacturing, as it pulls out of McCormick Place during IMTS. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

U.S. cutting tool consumption and manufacturing technology orders remained soft through August, impacted by such factors as the usual summertime slowdown, automotive model changeovers, and this year the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), which in the past has caused many purchasers to delay placing equipment orders until after the September event.

According to data released earlier this month by the U.S. Cutting Tool Institute (USCTI) and the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) in the monthly Cutting Tool Market Report, cutting tool consumption declined again in August, posting a drop of 2.7 percent from July to $165.4 million. Year-to-year figures show a drop of 3 percent from August 2013.

This means that in 2014, cutting tool consumption has posted monthly increases in January, March, April, and June and declines in February, May, July, and August.

U.S. cutting tool consumption through August came to approximately $1.34 billion. This puts it on track to roughly equal the $2.03 billion of sales recorded in 2013. Since IMTS took place early in September, it's possible that cutting tool consumption might post a gain and show strong demand in the fourth quarter based on machinery orders placed at the show or afterwards. These will, in some cases, take time to fill and show up in the September-through-December report figures.

U.S. manufacturing technology orders (MTOs), meanwhile, were essentially the same in August as in July, rising only 0.4 percent, based on data collected by AMT in its monthly U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report. Compared with the August 2013 figure, however, MTOs in August fell 6 percent.

MTOs totaled $356.7 million in August. The year-to-date figure through that month is $3.07 billion, 2.4 percent less than for the same period in 2013.

AMT president Doug Woods nevertheless said in a statement that "U.S. manufacturing activity remains at a brisk pace ..." He cited that "a recent uptick in durable goods orders, particularly in aerospace, automotive, and several other key industries," along with higher factory employment, as reasons to believe that manufacturing technology forecasts will be positive "over the next few years."

A regional breakdown, however, shows mixed results right now.

In the Northeast, August MTOs were $60.4 million, down 2.1 percent from August 2013. Northeast year-to-date totals are $497.75 million, 6.8 percent below the same period last year.

In the Southeast, MTOs through August amounted to $287.94 million, 0.5 percent more than the same period last year.

In the North Central-East Region, MTOs in August were down 4.2 percent from July to $87.42 million, and fell 11.5 percent from August 2013. The year-to-date figure for the region, however, is $844.02 million through August, a 4 percent increase from 2013.

In the North Central-West Region, August orders plunged 6.8 percent to $65.35 million from August 2013. The year-to-date total is worse, accounting for $507.68 million, a 12.9 percent decline from 2013.

The South-Central Region also saw a falloff in year-to-date MTOs to $482.12 million, 1.2 percent less than the same period last year.

Both reports are generated from data supplied by participating companies. USCTI and AMT maintain that data in the cutting tool report they produce jointly come from companies that account for 80 percent of U.S. cutting tool use.

IMTS Exceeds Expectations

Now that the hoopla surrounding IMTS has faded, it's worthwhile to analyze the results of this major global show, which is, of course, organized by AMT.

This year's 30th edition, which ran Sept. 8-13 in Chicago, was the fourth largest in IMTS history. Registration topped out at 114,147, a 13.9 percent increase over 2012. Those registering represented 112 countries. There were 2,035 exhibitors occupying 1.28 million sq ft of space in McCormick Place, one of a handful of facilities in North America able to accommodate so many exhibitors and the electricity they require to operate all the machinery on display.

Among the trends that generated considerable interest was additive manufacturing. The centerpiece of these presentations was doubtlessly the printing of an electric car made primarily of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer. The Strati, developed in a design competition by Local Motors, was produced, layer by layer, on an additive manufacturing machine from Cincinnati Inc., with a technique licensed from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The vehicle, the first to be made by additive manufacturing, took 44 hours to print and assemble. The car has a top speed of 40 mph, and was driven out of McCormick Place near the end of the show. The design requires only 40 parts, compared with as many as 20,000 in a conventional car.

In addition to the technology innovations at the show, organizers said that significant equipment orders were booked during IMTS, as were important leads generated that should be yielding sales into 2015.

IMTS 2016 is scheduled for Sept. 12-17 at McCormick Place.

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