LAS VEGAS—Companies in the conveyor belting industry for the most part are closing out 2011 on a strong note with expectations of another good run in 2012.
While the picture appears bright now, several cautioned that could change abruptly in the year ahead depending on the economic climate and the ramifications of political decisions.
And, of course, there's the recurring problem of rising raw material costs, which have been heading upward since late 2010.
Availability of some compounds is another issue, according to Cassandra Pan, president of Fenner Dunlop Americas, based in Pittsburgh.
Despite those factors, “2011 has been an extraordinary year” in the heavyweight belt segment, she said.
Most conveyor belt manufacturers, suppliers and distributors bounced back nicely after a tough two- or three-year stretch, depending on the company, according to several belting company officials at NIBA—The Belting Association annual conference, held Sept. 28-Oct. 2 in Las Vegas.
The majority of belting manufacturers, suppliers and distributors are doing quite well and have been for most of the year, they said.
Conference attendees cited coal mining, food distribution, energy, tire, automotive and chemical among the top markets for belts in 2011. “Energy, food, agriculture and coal are strong because people don't like to be in the dark, cold, hot or hungry,” said Tom Richardson, president of Conveyor Accessories Inc. in Burr Ridge, Ill.
On the lightweight side, “the food and meat handling markets have been particularly strong,” said John Shelton, president and CEO of Smyrna, Ga.-headquartered Belt Power L.L.C.
Silicone- and PFTE-coated fabric and lightweight belt producer Advanced Flexible Composites Inc. of Lake in the Hills, Ill., for instance, has seen overall improvement in the market in 2011 as compared to 2010, with the firm's sales rising about 20 percent over last year, according to President and CEO William Lewis.
The same holds true at Forbo Seigling L.L.C. of Huntersville, N.C. Wayne Hoffman, president of the manufacturer, said it has had a lot of success across its lightweight belt segments throughout the year.
Coal mining has been quite robust in the heavyweight sector, Price Rubber Corp.'s Jerry Marvil said. But, the president of the Montgomery, Ala.-headquartered company said, aggregate has been soft because of the sagging construction market.
Don Garner, vice president/general manager of Nashville Rubber & Gasket Co. in Nashville, Tenn., agreed, adding that the food and tire segments are up and continuing to do well.
Those same comments were echoed by numerous others at the conference, and all those surveyed put the blame on the lack of construction in the U.S. They also noted that parts of the industrial market are down.
However, Conveyor Accessories—a producer for conveyor belt fasteners, tools and aids for installing belts—has not seen much of a slide in aggregate, and the company has been doing well in that area. “Aggregate depends on where you're operating à if you're working on road projects, you're busy à if you're dealing with bridges, it probably isn't as good.”
But Conveyor Accessories is the only firm that said it has had any success in aggregate.
“The whole aggregate segment is still depressed—housing starts and construction are down,” said Nicholas Hobson, chief executive of England-headquartered Fenner P.L.C., the parent of Fenner Dunlop Worldwide and Fenner Dunlop Americas.
“Our business is down 40-60 percent in that segment,” he said. But the company is doing very well in all other heavyweight markets in the U.S. and across the globe, according to Hobson and David Landgren, executive director of Fenner Dunlop Worldwide.
Coal mining, agriculture, food distribution and energy, in particular, are areas where those at the convention see strong growth in the next year, and other segments could be as strong, depending how the economy fares.
But, Belt Power's Shelton cautioned, “I'm always concerned about the breadth and depth of an economic recovery in the U.S. and the impact of government and rising prices.”
Virtually everyone else surveyed at the conference agreed.