Thermoformers in Europe are hoping the Society of Plastics Engineers can help them overcome some traditional constraints of doing business there.
While Western Europe has a greater population density than North America, processors typically receive contracts for far smaller volumes than their U.S., Canadian and Mexican counterparts. A fragmented business market also has contributed to a fragmented technology base, despite moves toward a more open economy through the European Union.
Through SPE's European Thermoforming Division, businesses are working to break down some of those barriers, said Cor G.M. Janssen, division treasurer and project coordinator for Nelipak BV of Venray, the Netherlands.
``We should learn from each other to improve the entire thermoforming industry,'' Janssen said at SPE's annual thermoforming conference, held Sept. 15-17 in Nashville. ``You have to challenge each other.''
The European unit is a relative newcomer for SPE, founded by international competitors anxious to bring to Europe the industrial cohesiveness they spied during trade shows in North America.
The organization formed in the late 1990s, driven by concerns among thermoformers in Europe that they could miss out on potential business if they failed to work together, Janssen said.
While North American processors often receive orders for 1 million or more parts, European firms typically see demand for runs of 100,000-200,000. In Europe the industry has grown to serve regional, rather than international markets.
The European division hosted a small, trial conference in 1997 to weigh the interest in an international trade group for thermoforming there, and saw enough to encourage a series of meetings, now held every other year.
This year's show in Zurich, Switzerland, had 260 representatives from throughout Europe.