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Injection molding quality survey.

Nearly 450 molders rated 31 performance characteristics of machines and supplier services. The results provide some interesting comparisons of today's North American models versus the imports.

One person's preference in injection molding machines is a subjective judgment--about as valid to generalize as one's choice of which car to drive. Still, three-fourths of molders surveyed by PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY last year said they'd like to know more about what other molders think about different injection machines and suppliers. That was the genesis of a just-completed survey, whose results are presented here.

We mailed an eight-page questionnaire together with our June issue to all our 18,550 injection molding readers in the U.S. and Canada, asking them to rate numerically 14 machine performance characteristics and 17 supplier services for the injection machines that they had direct experience with in the last five years. We restricted our questions to machines purchased new from 1987 on, because that year saw the beginning of a sea-change in American machine design, prompted largely by the onslaught of import competition.

By the end of July, we had received 613 responses, 445 of them from readers who had worked with machines purchased new since 1987. Results were tabulated for us by an outside market-research firm.

We intended to report back to you the average numerical quality ratings by brand name and perhaps even by type of clamp, control system, and model series, where they appeared relevant. However, the low response rate of 3% does not permit us to publish the data in that fine degree of detail and still be confident that the results are fair and accurately representative of the spectrum of molder opinion.

As you can see from Table 1, we did receive molders' ratings on 61 brands of injection machines--including some that we had never heard of before. But for all except a small handful of brands, the responses were so few that to publish a ratings comparison would run the risk of being irresponsible and misleading.

On the positive side, we were advised by a professional Ph.D. statistician and graduate-school professor of marketing that despite the low response rate, the demographic profile of respondents fits quite closely the profile of the total molder population as measured by four criteria: size of plant, geographic region, custom or captive, and primary job function.

Even though that is not enough to guarantee a truly random and representative sample, we do think the opinions, based on experience, of 445 molders should be of some value and interest. Therefore, we decided to provide a coarser comparison of machines and suppliers, based on dividing the data into larger groups--most particularly, by domestic or overseas origin. We also believe we can do a better job of getting you the actual brand-name comparisons you want--next time.


Figure 1 shows what were unquestionably respondents' top three criteria for choosing an injection machine. The fourth-place choice (overall operating precision and repeatability) came up less than half as often as did number three. Uptime reliability or dependability not only came up the most frequently among respondents' top three choices--it was also their most frequent choice of "most important criterion."

Likewise, service and spare parts came up most often as "second most important." And price was usually ranked third.


Molders were asked to use a one-to-10 quality rating scale, where 10 is "best in its class," one is "lowest in its class," and five is "average." On this scale, Table 2 shows that general-purpose molding machines from each of the four regional categories score 7.0 or better in the majority of performance criteria.

Note that the figures are averages for between five and 11 different brands in each group, weighted according to the number of mentions for each brand. Keep in mind that a difference of 0.2 or less between any two figures in the table could be the result simply of rounding-off. Our admittedly unscientific feel for the numbers is that a ratings difference of less than 0.5 is probably not significant.

How do North American-made machines stack up against the overseas competition? In Table 2, the average ratings difference for all machine characteristics was less than 0.5 between North American and either Japanese, "Other Asian" (Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Korean), or Italian machines. The German/Austrian/Swiss machines did average 0.5 points higher overall.
General-Purpose Machines (100-999 Tons)
Supplier No. of Mentions
Arburg 2
Bata Shoe 1
Battenfeld 7
Boy 1
Bucher 1
Cincinnati Milacron 76
Continental 1
Dong Shin 1
Engel 26
Excel 1
Fu Chen Shine (FCS) 1
Gluco 1
HPM 31
Hettinga 1
Hull 1
Husky 10
Italtech 1
Japan Steel (JSW) 11
Jon Wai 1
Kawaguchi 12
Klockner 4
Krauss-Maffei 1
Lucky Goldstar 2
Mannesmann Demag 5
Mitsubishi 7
Nan Rong 1
Negri Bossi 4
Netstal 4
Newbury 15
Niigata 1
Nissei 26
Presma 1
Remu 1
Multiplas 1
Rutel 1
Sandretto 6
Shinwa Seiki 4
Sumitomo (SHI) 1
Techmire 1
Toshiba 18
Toyo 5
P.H. Trueblood 1
Ube 3
Union 2
Van Dorn 78
Victor 1
Welltec 1
Yoshida 1
Precision/Tight-Tolerance Machines (100-999 Tons)
Supplier No. of Mentions
Arburg 1
Battenfeld 3
Boy 1
Cincinnati Milacron 25
Dong Shin 1
Engel 11
Gluco 1
Hull 1
Husky 2
Japan Steel (JSW) 5
Kawaguchi 2
Klockner 2
Krauss-Maffei 1
Mannesmann Demag 8
Mitsubishi 3
Negri Bossi 2
Netstal 10
Newbury 4
Nissei 9
Sandretto 3
Shinwa Seiki 1
Sumitomo (SHI) 2
Toshiba 9
Toyo 7
Ube 1
Van Dorn 23
High-Speed/Thin-Wall Machines (100-999 Tons)
Supplier No. of Mentions
Battenfeld 2
Boy 1
Cincinnati Milacron 3
Engel 1
Husky 10
Japan Steel (JSW) 3
Klockner 4
Krauss-Maffei 1
Mitsubishi 1
Netstal 5
Nissei 1
Sumitomo (SHI) 1
Techmire 1
Toshiba 1
Van Dorn 5
Vimm 1
Small Machines (Under 100 Tons)
Supplier No. of Mentions
Arburg 51
Autojectors 7
Battenfeld 8
Boy 33
Bucher 1
Butler 1
CIC Ralphs 1
Chen Hsong 1
Cincinnati Milacron 12
Continental 1
Engel 23
Gluco 2
Hatoge 1
Illinois Precision 2
Jaco 4
Japan Steel (JSW) 2
Kawaguchi 3
Klockner 3
Mannesmann Demag 4
Multiplas 2
Negri Bossi 1
Netstal 3
Newbury 11
Niigata 1
Nissei 18
Presma 1
Sandretto 4
Shinwa Seiki 1
Sumitomo (SHI) 1
Techmire 1
Toshiba 3
Toyo 9
P.H. Trueblood 1
Van Dorn 22
Large Machines (1000 Tons & Up)
Supplier No. of Mentions
Battenfeld 3
Cincinnati Milacron 11
Engel 2
Fu Chen Shine (FCS) 1
Husky 3
Japan Steel (JSW) 3
Kawaguchi 1
Klockner 1
Krauss-Maffei 1
Mitsubishi 1
Netstal 1
Niigata 1
Nissei 1
Toshiba 1
Ube 2
Van Dorn 19

More significant perhaps are comparisons of ratings for individual criteria, which different molders may consider of more or less importance. Respondents rated Japanese and German/Austrian/Swiss machines at least 0.5 points higher than North American machines in several characteristics--especially uptime reliability, precision and repeatability, precision and repeatability, injection unit performance, and controls. On the other hand, Japanese machines were rated lower in average cycle speed than those from the U.S. and Canada.

Survey respondents evidently believe all imported machines to be significantly quieter than North American models. However, machines from Italy come in for criticism of uptime reliability, ease of maintenance and ease of mold installation and setup. Machines from "Other Asia" also rated comparatively low in dependability, precision and repeatability, speed, and both clamp and injection unit performance.


Table 3 compares machines used in tight-tolerance or precision molding. Here, ratings fell below 7.0 for five criteria on North American machines, four for Italian, three for German/Austrian/Swiss, and none for Japanese. Only Japanese machines averaged more than 0.5 points difference from North American ones for all categories. Japanese machines came in more than 0.5 points ahead of North American on 12 of 14 characteristics. German/Austrian/Swiss and Italian machines were rated 0.5 points or more higher on half as many criteria. Both of the latter were rated somewhat lower in ease of maintenance, and Italian models also ranked somewhat lower in range of control features and other options. (Note with caution that the Italian averages are based on very few responses; and there were too few to report Other Asian at all.) Again, all the imports were rated quieter than North American presses.


Respondents' machines for high-speed, thin-wall molding came mainly from two areas, with only a few Japanese models mentioned. The verdict again was that imports are quieter. Japanese and European machines ranked somewhat higher than North American models in several areas and lower in a few, but the overall average differences were minute.


Presses of 1000 tons and over were ranked separately. The number of responses was small, especially for imported machines. That caveat aside, respondents gave at least 0.5-point higher ratings for Japanese machines on nine of 14 characteristics, and German/Austrian/Swiss machines were ranked at least 0.5 points higher on all 14 criteria.


Injection presses under 100 tons are another special case, where German/Austrian/Swiss machines understandably predominate. All three categories of imports scored at least 0.5 points higher than North American models on nine of 14 criteria. Areas where all three groups of imports averaged higher were precision and repeatability, clamp and injection unit performance, range of standard features, control features, and energy efficiency.


Table 7 summarizes the quality ratings for all brands of machines together, separated only by clamp tonnage and type of molding. Respondents indicate a high degree of satisfaction overall with virtually all characteristics of all machine groups. Relative to general-purpose machines, the only two areas that ranked at least 0.5 points lower were operating safety for high-tonnage presses and range of standard features for small machines.


For general-purpose machines, no significant differences were seen in the average ratings for all brands between toggle and hydraulic clamps (just the first six criteria in the tables were considered). TABULAR DATA OMITTED The very few respondents who mentioned hydromechanical-clamp models rated them on average at least 0.5 points higher than toggles or hydraulic clamps on three to four of six criteria. However, respondents rated hydromechanicals at least 0.5 points lower than the other two in uptime reliability.
(100-999 TONS)
 Avg. Rating (1-10)
 By Supplier Origin
 North Austria,
 America Japan Switzer. Italy
Number of Mentions 71 49 40 6
Uptime Reliability 7.1 8.5 7.1 7.2
Ease of Maintenance 6.6 7.7 6.0 5.8
Precision, Repeatability 7.1 8.7 8.0 7.7
Avg. Cycle Speed 7.4 8.3 7.9 7.2
Speed, Ease of Mold
Installation, Setup 7.0 7.6 7.4 8.0
Clamp Unit Performance 7.5 8.3 8.0 6.3
Injection Unit Performance 7.0 8.2 7.6 6.5
Easy-to-Use Controls 6.9 8.3 6.5 7.2
Full-Featured Controls 7.5 8.5 8.0 8.0
Energy Efficiency 6.9 8.1 6.9 8.5
Machine Quietness 6.8 7.8 7.8 8.3
Range of Std. Features 6.9 7.6 7.3 7.5
Range of Avail. Options 7.9 8.0 8.2 6.7
Safe to Operate 8.4 8.4 8.5 9.0
 Avg. Rating (1-10)
 By Supplier Origin
 North Austria,
 America Japan Switzer.
Number of Mentions 23 5 16
Uptime Reliability 7.4 8.4 6.8
Ease of Maintenance 7.3 7.4 6.9
Precision, Repeatability 7.9 8.0 8.4
Avg. Cycle Speed 8.2 8.6 8.2
Speed, Ease of Mold
Installation, Setup 6.9 7.0 8.1
Clamp Unit Performance 8.1 7.8 8.3
Injection Unit Performance 8.0 8.2 7.8
Easy-to-Use Controls 8.1 7.0 8.0
Full-Featured Controls 8.2 7.8 7.2
Energy Efficiency 7.2 8.0 7.0
Machine Quietness 6.8 7.6 8.2
Range of Std. Features 6.6 6.4 7.9
Range of Avail. Options 8.3 7.4 8.2
Safe to Operate 8.0 8.6 8.5

For precision molding, toggle clamps were mentioned by twice as many respondents, but there was little difference in the ratings, excepting greater ease of maintenance for hydraulics.

In high-speed machines, hydraulic clamps were mentioned twice as often as toggles, and were rated at least 0.5 points higher in uptime reliability, ease of maintenance, and ease of mold installation (especially in the last two). Hydraulics, however, were rated 0.5 points lower than toggles in cycle speed. A very few respondents cited hydromechanical clamps, rating them well below toggles and fully hydraulics in uptime reliability, but no clear patterns emerged for other criteria.

In large machines, hydraulic clamps predominated; there were relatively few toggle machines and no big difference in the ratings. Even fewer hydromechanicals were mentioned, but respondents rated them at least 0.5 points higher than either of the other two in all six criteria. In small machines, respondents rated toggles and hydraulics equally satisfactory.
 Avg. Rating (1-10)
 By Supplier Origin
 North Austria,
 America Japan Switzer.
Number of Mentions 32 9 8
Uptime Reliability 6.7 7.7 7.9
Ease of Maintenance 6.9 7.4 7.4
Precision, Repeatability 7.1 7.8 9.1
Avg. Cycle Speed 7.2 7.7 8.2
Speed, Ease of Mold
Installation, Setup 6.9 7.3 8.0
Clamp Unit Performance 6.9 7.1 8.1
Injection Unit Performance 6.8 7.4 9.0
Easy-to-Use Controls 6.7 7.8 8.5
Full-Featured Controls 7.3 7.3 8.8
Energy Efficiency 6.1 7.6 8.0
Machine Quietness 6.4 7.7 8.4
Range of Std. Features 7.0 7.6 8.6
Range of Avail. Options 7.3 7.1 9.0
Safe to Operate 7.6 7.9 8.8
 Avg. Rating (1-10)
 By Supplier Origin
 North Austria,
 America Japan Switzer. Italy
Number of Mentions 71 35 145 7
Uptime Reliability 7.0 8.2 7.8 5.7
Ease of Maintenance 7.1 7.5 7.1 6.2
Precision, Repeatability 6.9 8.1 7.8 7.6
Avg. Cycle Speed 7.2 7.6 7.6 8.0
Speed, Ease of Mold
Installation, Setup 7.4 7.5 7.5 7.1
Clamp Unit Performance 7.1 7.6 7.7 7.6
Injection Unit Performance 7.0 7.7 7.6 7.7
Easy-to-Use Controls 7.1 8.1 7.2 7.1
Full-Featured Controls 6.9 7.6 7.4 8.1
Energy Efficiency 6.7 7.5 7.4 7.4
Machine Quietness 6.7 7.9 7.4 6.6
Range of Std. Features 5.9 6.8 7.3 8.3
Range of Avail. Options 7.1 6.9 7.6 7.7
Safe to Operate 8.0 7.7 8.4 8.7




Table 8 shows average ratings for 17 categories of machine supplier services. Differences are more apparent here than they were for machine quality characteristics. All overseas suppliers scored a good deal lower than North American in spare-parts service, though Other Asian and Italian were the lowest. The latter two also scored lowest in speed of repairs, help with processing problems, responsiveness to complaints, speed and timeliness of machine deliveries, installation and start-up assistance, documentation of machine operating and maintenance procedures, and quality of sales reps. Overall, Other Asian suppliers scored well below North Americans on all 17 criteria, and were rated below average (5.0) on seven characteristics.

Italian machine suppliers averaged at least 0.6 points below North Americans on 10 of 17 criteria, but came in highest of all suppliers in willingness to customize machines.

Japanese suppliers were strongest relative to North Americans in responsiveness to complaints, installation and start-up assistance, and knowledge of the latest materials and processing technology. Their weakest ratings relative to North Americans were spare-parts availability, customizing, and ability to provide turnkey systems. German/Austrian/Swiss suppliers scored relatively low only on spare parts. Their biggest strengths (relative to North Americans) were knowledge of the latest materials and processing techniques, and machine documentation.
Primary Job Function Respondents
Production or Mfg. Engineering 56%
General or Corporate Management 30%
Design or Design Engineering 7%
Purchasing 2%
Quality Assurance 2%
Sales, Marketing 0.4%
Other 1%
No Answer 1%


We asked respondents, "What would you like most to see changed or improved" about the machines they had purchased. For general-purpose presses, improved controls (easier use, added features, changed location, more networking interfaces) were by far the favorite recommendation. Hydraulic-system improvements came second, followed closely by clamp and ejector-system changes and improved overall reliability. (Ejector-system improvements accounted for nearly 40% of all suggested changes in the clamp end of machines.)

In precision molding, improved controls again topped the list, followed by better service and spare parts, overall reliability, and clamp/ejector systems. For high-speed machines, the order was controls, service, and clamp/ejector systems. Better controls and hydraulics were tied for first in large presses, followed by clamp/ejector improvements. And in small machines, the order was better controls, clamp/ejector systems, and parts and service, with hydraulics and overall reliability close behind.


When all is said and done we asked, would you buy a similar class of machine from the same supplier again? Figure 2 shows that a majority of respondents said yes in every case, except for Other Asian general-purpose machines. With that exception, greater willingness to buy again was shown for imports than North American machines in the g-p category. One or another group of imports was favored over North American presses in every other machine category, as well.

Who Answered the Survey

Despite the low overall response rate of 3-4%, the returns do conform quite closely to the overall population of molders in PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY'S circulation. This is evident from five demographic criteria:

* Size of plant--Forty percent of respondents' plants had one to nine injection machines, 30% had 10-20 machines, 22% had 21-50 machines, and 7% had more than 50 presses. These are almost precisely the figures for all the population surveyed (45%, 27%, 22% and 6%, respectively). Average and median size of respondents' plants were 19 and 13 injection machines, respectively, vs. 19 and 11 for the population surveyed.

* Geographic distribution--The correspondence of respondents with the overall population was even closer than the plant-size comparison above. It's worth noting that although questionnaires were mailed to more than one subscriber at many plants, over 90% of responses came from unduplicated locations.

* Custom/captive ratio--Over 64% of respondents came from plants that do some custom molding, compared with nearly 67% of plants overall.

* Primary job function--Table 9 gives the distribution of respondents. Compared with the overall population surveyed, these figures are somewhat biased toward production or manufacturing engineering, and away from R&D, which seems appropriate to the subject of the survey.

* Job titles--Three groups of titles accounted for 69% of respondents. They were, in order: chief executives (CEO, owner, president, general manager); heads of manufacturing (production or manufacturing manager or director, molding manager, operations director, plant manager); and manufacturing engineers or technicians. The percentage frequency of such job titles, and others, very closely matched those of the overall population surveyed.


Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they are involved in some way in making injection machine purchases: 69% help determine the need for a new machine, 70% help select the type, 72% recommend or select a supplier, and 46% actually approve a purchase.

Figure 3 shows that 96% of respondents have been "closely involved" with operating injection machines in the last five years, and 89% have been closely involved in maintenance of such machines. Only 3% said they were closely involved with neither.


The data in Fig. 4 came from questions suggested by injection machine builders as ways of evaluating the closeness of a customer/supplier relationship, which can affect a customer's opinion of the supplier and its machines. A slight majority of respondents had bought some machines in the last five years from suppliers or representatives, rather than from the original manufacturer. The list included 45 of the 63 brands purchased in 1987-92, including nine of the 13 North American suppliers. Overall, half the "yes" answers were for North American-built machines. Not surprisingly, respondents were 10 times as likely to have bought small machines through distributors or reps than large-tonnage machines.

Seventy-two percent of respondents said their plant's personnel had received some training from suppliers of machines bought in the last five years. Only 41 of 63 brands were represented among the "yes" answers, 51% came from North American machine builders, 27% from European, 19% Japanese, and 2.5% Other Asian.


Figure 5 shows answers to three other questions suggested by machine suppliers as possibly shedding some light on molders' opinions of injection machinery. Since ease of maintenance was an important concern of respondents, it's interesting to note that 87% of respondents said their plants perform routine scheduled maintenance on their presses, while 11% do not. For plants with up to 10 machines, the average ratio of injection machines to maintenance personnel servicing those machines was three machines per person. For plants with more than 10 machines, the average was a pretty consistent 6-8 machines/person, regardless of plant size.

Only 39% of respondents' plants have an in-house training department for molding personnel. And just 50% of respondents claimed that their plants ever measured or analyzed energy consumption of injection machines. This might indicate that machine ratings on energy efficiency should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Gardner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:De Gaspari, John
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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