The market for manufacturing technology is a mixed bag at present. Materials removal equipment, assembly tools and cutting tools are product areas that are suffering from a general slowdown in the manufacturing sector. Forecasts and trends in key indicators do suggest relief in the form of year-over-year increases in order rates through several months into 2016. The reasons for the softness have been delineated repeatedly in this column over the past eight months – energy, the dollar and China.
Having recently returned from the key metal forming exhibition for 2015 – FABTECH, it’s clear that forming and fabrication is on the upswing. This product sector has been coming on strong since May, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime in the near future. There are numerous customer sectors driving this market, but the largest is the auto industry where the annual rate of shipments has climbed to more than 18 million units.

FABTECH was not only upbeat, with greater participation and larger audiences than its 2013 and 2011 predecessors, but it was also peppered with more new companies, innovations and technologies than at previous shows. Cincinnati Incorporated not only had a booth in a show for the first time in ages, but their equipment was also being used for demonstrations of complementary technologies in other booths. For instance, they had their BAAM machine at the entrance of the North hall and products made on the BAAM were placed around the halls like ornaments on a tree.

Laser applications were everywhere and most included a fiber laser as their laser source. Trumpf introduced its new fiber laser and new sheet metal products at FABTECH, and the very next week the company introduced its step into the 3D printing market at the formnext fair in Frankfurt, Germany. Automation was making a big splash everywhere throughout FABTECH in forming, welding, stamping and even fume extractors with heat tracking systems to stay on exhaust from welding operations.

The trend data supports a tough market at the end of 2015 and an upbeat market in the second half of 2016. The Purchasing Managers’ Index remains above the 50 basis line by the narrowest of margins. The PMI arrow has moved to yellow and is trending downward reflecting the low number and the number of months that the index has trended this direction. Other key indicators that raise concerns are the global shipping levels, durable goods orders falling in September to the 12-month average, and household spending on dining. Hope for a faster turnaround than expected rests in the light vehicle sales climbing past 18 million on an annualized basis and, most importantly, a six point jump in consumer sentiment over the past two months. The trend in the indicators isn’t positive for manufacturing technology orders over the next 90 days. However, the trend in manufacturing durables remains stable and positive; order and production levels are expected to remain strong. 

The situation could quickly improve or take a turn for the worse. Being a glass half-full person, I predict that the continued strength in the auto industry, a renewed round of aerospace spending, continued increases in foreign direct investment and an improving global picture will have the manufacturing technology market back on track by mid-year 2016.  

If you have any questions about the material presented here, or the 10 indicators chart, don’t hesitate to call Pat McGibbon at 703-827-5255 or email
See the interview with John Walker, Oxford Economics to find out more on Global Economic Highlights for Manufacturing.