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What crisis? Plastics industry soars in Europe
Source:    Author:(Andy Lau)    Date:09.Dec.2015

Fakuma 2015, which was held from October 13-17 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, concluded with 45,721 expert visitors from 120 countries.

Exactly 1780 exhibitors from 38 countries were present at the trade fair, occupying fully 85,000sqm of space in Friedrichshafen Exhibition Centre.

Both visitors and exhibitors number edged out last year’s record, which saw 45,689 attendees from 117 countries and 1,772 exhibitors from 36 nations and regions.

The organizer, P. E. Schall GmbH & Co. KG, pointed out that the exhibitors were satisfied with the visitor numbers and above all the quality of the meetings.

More importantly, the show “was more international than ever and is generating hope within the industry sector that the good business conditions experienced in 2014 and 2015”.

In fact, the number of exhibitors came from outside of Germany was growing steadily, from 566 in 2012 to 639 in 2014 and 672 this year.

Ulrich Eberhardt, Spokesperson of the Fakuma Exhibitor Committee and Managing Director of motan holding GmbH, said, “The sales markets in Western Europe experienced a predominantly positive trend. This applies in particular to the markets in Italy, Spain and Portugal.”

His comment was echoed by the exhibitors interviewed by CPRJ International.

Packaging is all aorund

Kiefel, a member of the Brückner Group, put its focus on the packaging and automotive industries at Fakuma 2015.

The packaging industry in Germany as well as Europe offers good prospect for the plastics industry, according to Reinhold Plot, Head of Marketing at Kiefel. One of the reasons for this is the change of consumer habits.

"People need more convenient food. Families are getting smaller, so they prefer small-sized, individual packages,” he said. “And it is happening not just in Europe, but also in Asia where the population is growing.”

Plot gave an example: Water is usually stored in bottles, but there is a growing demand for water packaged in plastics cups.

Kiefel’s Speedformer KMD pressure forming machine is tailored for the packaging industry. It is able to process a wide range of materials, including polystyrene (PS), oriented PS (OPS), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polylactic acid (PLA) and crystallizing polyethylene terephthalate (CPET).

The rise of multi-layer packaging also benefits the thermoforming business, because “it is not something possible with injection molding”, Plot said.

Following a record performance in 2014, this year will also be very successful for Kiefel, he revealed, with Asia and North America leading the way, while in Europe certain countries like Germany, Netherlands and France are active.

"The demand for higher quality machine is always there,” Plot emphasized.

The focus of Fohoba in Europe is on the medical and packaging industry, and according to Hansj?rg Keusgen, the company’s Head of Sales & Marketing, these markets are growing very well and are not affected by any slowdown of economies.

"The packaging industry is growing everywhere,” he said, pointing out the company is supplying a lot of molds to India, China and Latin America, mainly Mexico and Brazil.

The sector is driven by the need to create unique packages so that manufacturers can differentiate themselves from the competitors. “If one OEM brings in something new, then the others would have to follow suit,” Keusgen explained.

For instance, processors are looking for multi-component and In-mold Labeling (IML) technology for fancy design. The mold has to be more efficient than in the past too to improve productivity.

He said the company is confident of meeting its business target in 2015, which is “a high one”. In the future, one of Foboha’s targets is to optimize its services around the world, particularly in China.

At Fakuma 2015, Illig premiered the thermoforming of pre-printed decorated plastic sheets for small batch orders.

A custom-designed model sports car was formed out of 3mm digitally pre-printed polyethylene terephthalate-clycol-copolyester (PETG) sheets on the UA 100g sheet-processing machine. Both the printer and inks came from FujiFilm.

The machine shown at Fakuma was able to complete around 30 pieces in an hour at about 45s of cycle time. The maximum forming area was 960x660mm.

"There is growing demand for customized design worldwide, and Illig wants to be part of this trend,” said Thomas Stahl, the company’s Sales Manager. “It opens up new possibilities for decorations, for example, packaging, helmets and other creations you can think of, because shapes that cannot be printed in the past can now be decorated.”

Positive results for injection molding

A bright trend was presented by major injection molding machinery suppliers.

Arburg’s management team revealed that the company will likely surpass last year’s result, when it achieved a record breaking consolidated sales of €548 million.

The US remained Arburg’s strongest market, while activities continued to expand in Asia, with China “progressing satisfactorily”, according to Michael Hehl, Arburg Managing Partner and Spokesperson for the Management Team.

"We are experiencing an annual double digit growth in the US,” added Helmet Heinson, Arburg Managing Director of Sales. “The Chinese market is not affected by the slowing economy as high-tech applications are most needed there.”

In Europe, Germany remained the best market for Arburg; activities in Central and Eastern Europe remains at a high level; in Western Europe, Hehl named the UK as a particularly positive example, where production is being brought back into the country.

Planning for the growing demand in the future, Arburg is currently moving into its new 18,600sqm assembly hall for large Allrounders and turnkey systems. The overall area of the factory has therefore increased 13% to nearly 165,000sqm.

Having stepped into the role of KraussMaffei Group CEO in July, Dr. Frank Stieler made his first appearance at a major plastics and rubber trade show.

He brought along some positive news at Fakuma, as sales of the KraussMaffei Group in the first half of this year grew to €576 million, compared to €521 million in the same period of 2014.

Incoming orders amounted to €625 million in first half of 2015 against €550 million recorded in the correspondent period of last year.

Declined to discuss the Group’s future strategy, Stieler noted that his aim is to land higher efficiency and effectiveness within KraussMaffei, and that improving customer orientation and services is on top of his priority.

He also said the Volkswagen (VW) scandal will unlikely affect the group’s profit, as the automotive industry will further develop and “capacity may be shifted to other auto makers”.

Sumitomo (SHI) Demag is on course to the best ever result in the company’s history, according to Chief Sales Officer Gerd Liebig.

Citing figures in Germany and China, total turnover is expected to be €225 million in these two countries, with €255 million incoming orders. Total sales, according to Tetsuya Okamura, CEO of Sumitomo Demag, will be around €650 million.

Liebig said business in Europe is mainly driven by the German market, but Spain and Italy are also surprisingly active.

In North America, the packaging industry is particularly strong, however, further down south Brazil is at a critical condition, he mentioned.

The overall situation in Asia is good, despite a certain degree of slowdown in China, of which half of its business comes from the automotive industry, Lebic said.

As a major all-electric machines supplier, Sumitomo Demag sees a good opportunity in Europe as only 25% of the machines in the region uses electric drives. The targeted applications include packaging, automotive, consumer and precision products.

The company expected to sell around 1,450 injection molding machines this year. By investing in new markets, focusing on all-electric technology, promoting a new packaging concept, and in addition to higher acceptance of all-electric machines in China, Lebic hopes to break the 2,000 units mark in the future.

With a strong order income that is around 15% better than the previous year, the Wittmann Group is looking forward to an 11% increase of revenue, from €306 million in 2014 to €340 million in 2015.

Georg Tinschert, Managing Director and CEO of Wittmann Battenfeld, admitted the performance is surprisingly good, “as the correction seen in the stock market did not affect investments.”

Within Europe, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania are posting strong order income for Wittmann, Tinschert said. Outside of EU, the US, Mexico and Taiwan are also very active while Brazil and China are relatively weak this year.

To support its future growth, Wittmann announced a series of expansion in various countries. At its Kottingbrunn, Austria headquarters for injection molding machines, a new machining center for its large-size MacroPower series is currently under construction.

An expanded Technical Center, which is adjacent to the new facility, is expected to open in Spring 2016, offering more space of testing, training and demonstration of MacroPower.

Wittmann’s Vienna base will also be expanded, with the aim of boosting robot production by another 300 units to 4,500 robots/year. It is expected to be in operation in June next year.

Meanwhile, the Material Handling business has moved to a new site on October 19. The new office is located 19km northwest of its Vienna base.

Elsewhere in Hungary, a new sales and service subsidiary has been in operation in Buda?rs since September 1; in Poland, Wittmann has acquired its original agent and established a direct subsidiary.

Outside of Europe, Wittmann Battenfeld Taiwan has moved to a new facility in Taichung in July, which offers a total of 1,400sqm of space for office, storage and showroom.

In the US, Wittmann Battenfeld has acquired a neighboring plant that offers an additional 5,000sqm of area. The peripheral equipment department will move into this new facility in February 2016, while the original building will house the robot and injection molding departments.

After a record year with a turnover of more than €1 billion in 2014/15, Engel is able to boost both its turnover and order intake in the first half of the current fiscal year.

"The growth in the past two years had been extremely well, something which we couldn’t imagine three years ago,” said Dr. Christoph Steger, Chief Sales Officer at Engel. “Even without the worldwide tensions, we expect the market to slow down in the near future.”

"We still expect a double digit growth for the fiscal year 2015-16, and then a high single digit growth for 2016-17,” added Dr. Peter Neumann, CEO of Engel.

The plastics industry will continue to benefit from lightweight construction where metal substitution is an important topic. There is also growing demand for sustainable turnkey solutions, Neumann analyzed.

From a geographical point of view, Asia in general still offers valuable opportunities, where two-third of its sales in the region is generated in China. The slowdown in China reflects the fact that the market has reached a certain degree of maturity and is developing from quantitative growth towards more quality and technology, he said.

North America is also among the strongest growth engine while there is still some potential in Europe. For instance, Neumann observed that toy manufacturers are reshoring back to European countries because the same quality standard is difficult to maintain in Asia.

To cater for future growth, Engel has begun the expansion of the technology center at its Schwertberg, Austria headquarters. It will provide an additional 9,300sqm of space and is expected to commence in 2016 Autumn.

Of these, more than 5,000sqm are reserved for offices to strengthen the sales and service teams. A new apprentice workshop will be built on approximately 1,300sqm and around 300sqm will be available for day nursery facilities.

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