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Machine Tool Orders Continue to Drop in 2023

March 13, 2023
Machine tool order volumes declined in January for the fourth consecutive month, though AMT suggested that the decrease could help to reduce the current backlog and prepare suppliers to achieve shorter lead times.

U.S. manufacturers’ orders for new machine tools declined in January for the fourth straight month, down -16.3% from December to $355.6 million. That figure is -20.3% lower than the January 2022 total, according to the data reported by AMT - the Association for Manufacturing Technology in its latest U.S. Manufacturing Technology Orders report.

In addition, the value of January orders is lower than any monthly total for 2022, and the total for units is the lowest figure during that 13-month sequence.

“January orders are down, but the decline is consistent with expectations,” stated AMT president Douglas K. Woods. “Although down, it is worth noting that orders in January 2023 are nearly 17% above what would be expected from a typical January.”

He continued: "After the historic run of orders placed in the last two years, a mild slowdown in new orders could help to reduce the current backlog and put the manufacturing technology industry in a position to deliver machinery with much shorter lead times when economic activity is anticipated to pick up later in the year."

The USMTO report is a monthly summary of nationwide and regional demand for metal-cutting and metal-forming and -fabricating machinery. It is a forward-looking indicator of overall manufacturing activity, as machine shops and other manufacturers make capital investments in preparation for demand expected in the weeks and months ahead.

The regional results for January revealed particularly strong orders in the South Central region, where new orders for metal-cutting machinery totaled $35.27 million – up +20.4% over December and +46.3% over January 2022. Metal-cutting machinery orders increased to $74.17 million in the North Central-East region, up 11.2% from December but down -32.7% versus January 2022. Among the other regions, only the North Central-West posted a positive (+1.4%) month-over-month result, and the other three posted double-digit decreases in new-order volume from December

AMT pointed to data prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau to show that new orders for metalworking machinery exceeded shipments by over $750 million since January 2021 – which is the opposite of the trend for the 2019-2021 period when shipment values exceeded new orders by $1.2 billion.

The association also highlighted the detail that contract-machine shops orders have “remained relatively consistent from January 2022,” but with an increase in orders for machining centers with simultaneous five-axis capability, “indicating the need for additional capacity to produce more complex parts domestically.”

"Despite the mild pullback, distributors with machinery in stock or builders with shorter lead times still have several opportunities (to increase their order volumes),” Woods observed.

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