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Nothing 'virtual' about world of K

By: Bill Bregar

October 25, 2013

The K show is the time to press the flesh, to talk to real people, to realize that the plastics industry is truly global.

For eight days in October at Messe Düsseldorf every third year, the plastics industry becomes a living, multicultural mass of humanity, jamming the massive halls.

And I love it.

You see, a lot of this world can be so indirect, so "virtual." I hate that. Emails, Twitter, Instagram. Self-checkout at the grocery store. … Websites that don't include a physical address, or a phone number. And when was the last time you called a company — at least in the United States — and got a real live receptionist? No, you have to listen to a long complex message telling you what number to push. A friendly voice on the phone is replaced by: "Listen carefully, as our menu options have changed."

How about those people you see walking down a city street with their heads down, staring at their smartphones? In San Francisco in late September, a man pulled out a gun, followed another man off a crowded commuter rail car, and shot him dead. Surveillance videos showed the man had already pulled the gun several times while he was on the crowded car.

Here's what Associated Press said: "The dozen passengers aboard were so hypnotized by their phones and tablets, they failed to notice." AP quotes the district attorney: "There are people facing in his direction, you can see them on smartphones and their tablets, highly distracted. No one sees this going on."

Even if people had been aware of their surroundings, it might not have made a difference. But where is the human interaction?

That's why I like trade shows. I remember not too many years ago when some futurists were saying trade shows would become obsolete. And some regional plastics shows did disappear.

When I look around at K, it's amazing. It's packed. This is where you go to see new technology — K is unparalleled for big introductions, some even groundbreaking. Machinery makers hold their biggest block-buster innovations for K.

And the people! We used to stay in Cologne and ride the train in to Dusseldorf — standing up for the 40-minute trip, wall-to-wall people. You would be chatting with the minister of plastics from Brazil, or Uganda.

One time at K, I was talking with an executive of Akei, the Hong Kong maker of blow molding machines. In walked a guy from some small nation in Africa — I forget which one — wearing a strange hat and bright, colorful flowing robes. He ran a major blow molding company in his country.

He had traveled halfway around the world to talk extrusion blow molding.

K 2013 is my eighth K show.

My first time at K — and in Europe — my head hurt from hearing all the different languages. But pretty soon I realized that these people are all speaking the same language — plastics.

Bregar is a Plastics News senior reporter.