Extruders Made in China: They’re Coming Here Now

Low-priced Chinese-built extruders have arrived in North America to make pipe, sheet, film, and profiles. Some customers find them a good buy; others don’t. Here’s what you need to know.

Chinese-built extruders are arriving here in small sizes and modest numbers. Most are bought one at a time by large, sophisticated processors who are sampling the Chinese market and can afford to throw a machine away if they don’t like it. Some are being bought by small start-up companies tempted by prices only one-third to half those of North American or European extruders. Some of these North American buyers felt they got a good deal and ordered more machines. Others have gotten burned.

Most of the Chinese extruders in the U.S. and Canada are making PVC pipe and profiles, but some are used on specialty extrusion lines for composite and corrugated pipe, wood/plastic profiles, and blown or cast film. The most frequent general problem encountered with Chinese extruders is electrical compatibility issues, ranging from relatively benign—e.g., replacing a Chinese controller with a U.S.-made one—to catastrophic. Wires, for example, might be the right color but too thin to meet our electrical codes. In the worst cases, processors had to call in electrical contractors to rewire entire machines to bring them up to code. The added cost, from $50,000 to $60,000 per line, in some cases nearly doubled the ultimate cost of the extruder.

Sun Centre from Shanghai has 11 blown film lines in the U.S. Its standard controls come from Taiwan, but German or Japanese controls are optional.

The Chinese machine builders listed in this article all actively market extruders here and exhibit at international shows like Chinaplas in Guangzhou last May, NPE in Chicago last year, and the K Show in Germany last month. Most of these Chinese OEMs are offshoots of large former state-owned enterprises and come from a tradition of mass producing generic machines with little ability to customize.

“These machines are ideal for the Third World, where a processor may want to run HDPE, LLDPE, and nylon all on one machine and labor is cheap and they don’t care about output rate,” says extrusion consultant Paul Waller, president of the Touchpoint Group, who has been called in to fix Chinese extruders. For reasons like those he cited, most Chinese extruders are exported to relatively unpicky and unregulated markets in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.

Lately, more entrepreneurial Chinese machine builders are trying to gain access to more advanced technology and are forging partnerships with U.S., Canadian, and European OEMs to meet standards for export to those markets. As a result, many export-model Chinese extruders offer German or Japanese computer controls and European gears, drives, and thickness gauges.

Yet it is still a case of “Buyer Beware.” Though a large number of extruders at this year’s Chinaplas exhibition sported what looked like Siemens controls, some were empty boxes “just for show,” says Siemens’ sales manager Holger Schurmann. However, he notes that many Chinese builders of extruders, including one of the largest, Shanghai Shen Wei Da Machinery Co., do use real Siemens controls on their machines.

Even then, buyers need to look closely. Some U.S. processors say they specified Siemens controls on extruders and received simple, inexpensive Siemens controls built specially for Chinese injection molding machines, though the controls can sometimes be used for extrusion. Siemens discontinued those Chinese controls last September. The moral is that buyers should specify a particular model of Siemens controller and then be sure that what arrives isn’t just a box with a Siemens’ name.

Don’t be fooled by a nice paint job. One disgruntled buyer of a Chinese extruder recalls, “From the outside it was beautiful. It looked just like a KraussMaffei, but it couldn’t hold temperatures and the output suffered. It worked, but I wouldn’t buy another one.”

Film & sheet successes
Other buyers tell happier tales. When Dennis Wong traveled to China to find a blown film machine for his converting business, Polynova, in Richmond, B.C., what got his attention about Jin Ming machines was a very clean oscillating nip and haul-off. That was not surprising, since Guangdong Jin Ming Plastics Equipment Co. had built haul-offs for several years for a large German blown film OEM.

Wong’s company, Polynova, imported the first Jin Ming blown film line in North America five years ago. He liked the three-layer line so much that he set up PEC-Plastic Equipment Co. (formerly JM Canada) to represent Jin Ming. This year, Polynova replaced the original line with a newer one and sold the older system to a start-up company in Vancouver.

The first Jin Ming machine in the U.S. was shown at NPE 2006 and was sold to Polythin Films in Aberdeen, N.C., div. of Plastic Packaging Co. in Hickory, N.C. Polythin visited Polynova to examine its Jin Ming line before deciding to buy. Not everything worked right initially, notes Jin Ming’s U.S. sales agent, James Collins of Southern Converting Systems. One problematic component was a corona treater built by a different Chinese company. Collins simply bought a U.S.-made replacement. According to Polythin plant manager Roy Snipes, spare parts for the line have been readily available from China, and PEC is working on stocking more parts here.

The first Jin Ming blown film line came to North America five years ago. The buyer purchased a second line and become a rep for them here. Jin Ming now has 12 lines in the U.S. and Canada.

Jin Ming is the only Chinese blown film system that uses Swiss-made Kundig thickness gauges for automatic gauge control. Jin Ming has five blown film lines in Canada and seven in the U.S. It exhibited a line for blown stretch film at the K 2007 show last month; that line was sold to a U.S. company.

Another Chinese builder of blown film extruders, Sun Centre Machinery Co. (represented here by Karlville), says it has 11 blown film lines in the U.S., including eight in California and two in New Jersey. Sun Centre also supplies winders, oscillating nips, and bubble cages to processors here. Its standard controls come from Fatek in Taiwan; Japanese or German controls are optional. Sun Centre exhibited at NPE last year and showed a three-layer line with an oscillating nip at the K Show last month; it was sold to a processor in Israel.

Wu Han Changxin Plastic Machinery Co. in Wu Han Province says it has one monolayer film line installed in Vancouver, B.C. Chanxin advertises that its machines comply with CE, BQC, JAF, and CNAB standards and that its facilities are ISO 9001-2000 certified.

Two Taiwanese machine builders have supplied small, simple blown film lines and single-lane bagmakers in North America for as long as 17 years. Queen’s Machinery in Taipei claims to have over 50 blown film lines here, including some at Advanced Polybag in Houston.

Lung Meng Machinery Co. (represented in the U.S. and Canada), claims to have a number of blown film lines in North America. Sealed Air has several, including one in Lenoir, N.C. R&P Plastics in Wichenden, Mass., has four and a fifth on order. At the K Show last month, Lung Meng showed a new stretch-film line.

Han King Plastic Machinery Co. in Taiwan also claims to have blown film extruders in the U.S. and Canada. It exhibited a large tower at Chinaplas for five-layer barrier film with up to 1.6-meter layflat. The line was touted as “super high speed.” It had grooved feed throats, barrier screws, and 50-hp AC motors. Han King uses a thickness gauge from Octagon Process Technology in Germany, as well as Octagon’s dual-lip auto-gauging air ring.

Vale Packaging Ltd. in Hubbards, N.S., bought the first sheet line in North America from Zhejiang Honghua Machinery Plastic & Rubber Co. in China, along with four thermoformers. Later on, Vale became a rep for the Chinese equipment. Vale president Edward Baker helped Honghua rewrite technical manuals into readable English and meet Canadian codes (though it isn’t listed yet by CSA).

Vale’s second Hongua sheet line, a three-layer coex system, will be installed this month to make two-colored PET sheet for thermoforming. Honghua exhibited at NPE last year and at the K Show last month.

Extruders for PVC
Twenty-year-old Shen Wei Da says it has over 50 twin-screw extruders in the U.S. One customer, Silverline Building Products (now part of Andersen Corp.), initially bought one to try out, then added 10 more in its Durham, N.C., window and door profile plant, despite some issues with overheating, a company source says. Silverline also bought from Shen Wei Da a 90-mm parallel twin-screw that was shown at NPE 2006.

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