PHOENIX—Conveyor belt manufacturers and suppliers are upbeat about present and future growth opportunities in virtually all segments of the industry. And with good reason.
While 2009 wasn't a good year for many, it also wasn't a disaster, according to several executives who attended the recent NIBA—The Belting Association conference in Phoenix.
As 2010 rolled in, orders and business began to pick up. It has remained steady since then.
“The coal market hasn't changed much Ã there has not been an enormous drop in coal use, and the domestic market is strong,” said Thomas Richardson, president of Burr Ridge, Ill.-based Conveyor Accessories Inc.
“We service a number of markets—coal, food, commercial, construction, energy and others—and they're all doing pretty well,” Richardson said.
The long-time industry veteran has seen it all and right now things are looking up in several key segments. He believes the overall belt market will remain healthy and that companies can continue to be profitable.
Another belting expert, Jerry Marvil, who's been around the industry for more than 50 years, agrees about the continued strength of the coal business. But Marvil, president of Price Rubber Corp. in Montgomery, Ala., said the aggregate mining segment is still off.
In addition, the executive said, “some of the commodity belting production in the U.S. has been impacted by imports Ã and, of course, everyone's afraid of the economy.”
However, the heavy belt maker, which has operated in the black for the last several years because it said it takes care of basics, doesn't compete in the commodity market. It primarily produces heavy black conveyor belting for the aggregate, sand and gravel, and coal industries.
Fenner Dunlop Americas President Cassandra Pan said the company is cautiously optimistic because the mining industry has been good this year, “although the industrial market has been sluggish.” The Pittsburgh-based company has invested millions in its North American operation “because we believe in this market,” she said.
Veyance Technologies Inc., headquartered in Fairlawn, Ohio, also has invested heavily in its growing operation, particularly at its Marysville, Ohio, belt manufacturing plant and technical center, and its technical facility in Fairlawn.
The market began to surge for the company in March and it has been improving steadily since then.
Veyance and Fenner Dunlop have purchased several service companies to make complete production, service and distribution packages available to their customers.
U.S. Rubber Corp. is adding a double-deck press at its Conroe, Texas, plant to accommodate present and future demand, according to Raymond Borup, national sales and marketing manager.
“We're back to where we were two years ago, so business has improved quite a bit for us,” he said.
The firm, which specializes in made-to-order heavy duty belts, primarily focuses on the power generation industry but also services the aggregate, pulp and paper, grain, wood, petroleum, coke handling and cement industries. While aggregate hasn't been strong, the others are up from 2009.
Donald Garner, the incoming president of NIBA, said zinc mines are going strong and much of the mining industry is up. The vice president/general manager of Nashville Rubber & Gasket Co. said both heavyweight and lightweight belt makers anticipate growth continuing into 2011.
Across the board, virtually all big belt manufacturers and their suppliers are at least somewhat optimistic about future growth, primarily because of the growing coal market. They're cautious about the aggregate sector but hope to see improvement there in the next year.
Sales, exports up
On the lightweight belt side, Wayne Hoffman, president of Huntersville, N.C.-based Forbo Siegling L.L.C., said sales rebounded in 2010 and exports to Asia have increased. The company's strong mid-weight belt business also continues to improve, he said, so from his vantage point the market is solid, prospects are good “and we continue to invest and be innovative.”
Forbo Siegling serves the baggage handling, agriculture and numerous other industries.
Business has been so strong at Belt Power L.L.C. that it's expanding its lightweight urethane belt operation.
The Smyrna, Ga.-headquartered manufacturer, with production and field service plants in Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta, has plans to add a plant in Houston by early 2011, President and CEO John Shelton said. He said he has seen improvement in the areas it serves across the board, including food, baked goods, confectioners, meat processing and other sectors.
“We're bullish on the future,” he said. “Our prospects are good and we've made a number of cost improvements,” investing in equipment and technology for more efficient production.
Silicone- and PFTE-coated fabric and belt producer Advanced Flexible Composites Inc. had a poor 2009 but has bounced back much stronger in 2010. William Lewis, president and CEO of the Lake in the Hills, Ill., firm, said he has seen a resurgence in several sectors the firm serves and sales are up 18 percent over solid 2008 revenues.
Two areas that have been lagging are the textile and screen painting industries. Others the firm serves include aerospace, flexible packaging, polymer manufacturing, food processing, chemical, electronics and communications.
Conveyor Accessories' Richardson said that throughout the belting industry “those that were investing back into their businesses were ready for the downturn and upturn. Actually, a lot of bigger companies started up in recessionary times without a lot of fat Ã so it's not built in,” he said.
“That's the way it was for us when we were formed in 1979. We didn't have a lot of fat and we remained that way Ã so during the recession we had no layoffs, but we didn't hire anyone either.”
He believes the belting industry is stronger than it has ever been.
“Lightweight has made great technology advances in the last 30 years,” Richardson said, “and heavyweight is much more sophisticated today than it's ever been.”