The competition between plastics trade shows in Asia is definitely heating up, and you have to wonder if some of the smaller ones can survive in the face of a slowing global economy and what seems like too many shows.
Against that backdrop, the granddaddy of Japan's shows, the International Plastic Fair, recently had its first-ever pre-show event, in Tokyo, for trade press journalists from outside Japan. IPF's reason for the outreach? Organizers said they want to attract more international visitors to the show, which happens every three years and will take place Nov. 7-11 in Tokyo.
But another reason, I think, is the poor global economy. IPF officials said Japanese machinery firms are looking at a steeper-than-expected decline in machinery sales this year, courtesy of the U.S. mortgage crisis, among other factors.
IPF bills itself as the place where technology-oriented Japanese firms unveil their latest innovations, and I got a glimpse of some of that technology. But what I found equally interesting was the large shadow China cast in the room.
Unprompted, IPF show officials in opening remarks took an unsubtle swipe at the biggest Chinese show, Chinaplas. Even while Chinaplas gets bigger, they said, Japan is the place to be for selling the best (i.e., most profitable) equipment to the big Japanese multinationals.
``Decision makers for Honda and Toyota are not in China, they are in Japan,'' IPF chief exhibition manager Minoru Shibata told reporters. ``As a matter of size, we can't defeat Chinaplas,'' Shibata told me later. ``They are huge now. But there is one thing we can still say about IPF. IPF is the most advanced technological show, I would say, in the world.''
It's probably the only strategy really available to IPF the focus on technology.
At the last Chinaplas, held in April in Shanghai, I met representatives of non-Chinese firms who told me they were exhibiting there not because they particularly wanted to sell to China's domestic market, but because they saw the venue as a place where the whole world comes looking for low-cost equipment.
I go to a lot of trade shows in Asia, and I agree with that assessment: Chinaplas is becoming a global show for bargain shopping. By comparison, I attended ASEANPlas in May in Singapore, and saw an exhibition that was struggling.
However, there is a role for IPF and others. Given China's serious problems with protecting intellectual property and its price-sensitive market, it will take a while before Chinaplas can become a show for seeing the latest and greatest technology.
Japan's Nissei ASB Machine Co. Ltd., for example, said it plans to unveil the world's only all-electric one-step stretch blow molding machine, for high-end medical and pharmaceutical markets. Press maker Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd. will showcase technology for injection molding carbon nanotube compounds, and plans to help supply those compounds.
Japanese materials maker Teijin Chemicals Ltd. touted new bio-based polymers.
It's a cliche to talk about globalization changing the business world, but indulge me as I say that globalization will make this IPF especially interesting.
This year saw Japanese injection molding machine maker Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd. buy Germany's Demag Plastics Group, a major linkup between Japanese and European firms. Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. and KraussMaffei AG followed with a technology partnership.
And I think we're going to see more of those mergers and partnerships between the best of companies from developed economies, as they try to fend off challenges from the rising plastic equipment makers in developing countries.
That, for now at least, is going to keep shows like IPF very relevant.
Steve Toloken is Plastics News' Guangzhou, China-based Asia bureau chief.