Ulrich Reifenhäuser sees some good signs in the European market, but the USA is the highlight for Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG among the global markets in which it operates.
Plastics News Europe talked to Reifenhäuser, managing director of the Troisdorf, Germany-based extrusion equipment manufacturer, after the recent NPE show in Orlando, Fla.
Q: Which markets are providing good growth for Reifenhäuser Group, and which ones are currently difficult?
Reifenhäuser: Overall the business climate is good, but of course there are differences between the regions. The No. 1 ranking is the USA. This is a really good business for Reifenhäuser Group and the market has been picking up with many new investments. With the current euro-dollar exchange rate, some projects have been approved faster than expected.
In southern Europe — I mean Spain and Italy — there are clear signs of recovery from recession. Customers who did not commit to new investments are really awake again. They are talking about new capacity and new technologies, so things are back on track.
Latin America is in a good situation and there are some nice projects that guarantee this will be ongoing. In India, with the change in government, there might be positive changes, so this big market has some possibilities. The market in China did calm down, but we still foresee investments. It's maybe stronger in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is good for Reifenhäuser and Indonesia is growing.
And the low points — no surprise that these are Russia and countries in the east of Europe. In the eastern countries, they are afraid what Russia is going to do, so overall it's insecure in the region and companies are not in the mood for investments.
Q: How well did the NPE show go in the United States?
Reifenhäuser: The NPE show was a really positive surprise for us. The show this year was like the old NPEs when it was the No. 2 exhibition in the plastics industry, after the K show. Regarding the importance, the level of activity and the seriousness of talks with customers, it was a good old-style NPE.
I think there are two reasons why the U.S. market is doing well: the reindustrialization which the United States has been working on, and shale gas. The U.S. guys love to be independent, they don't want to be dependent on Arabian oil and gas. Their attitude is “we can do it ourselves.”
Q: Is 2015 the year when Europe has finally recovered from recession?
Reifenhäuser: Has there been a full recovery from recession? No. But the development out of recession has taken another step. Europe overall was not back at 2007 levels last year and it won't be in 2015. But it is recovering slowly and steadily.
In Western Europe, Germany is on a good level and has not been too bad in the last three years. Germany is now back at its former level, but the rest of Europe is not. Scandinavia and the United Kingdom are still slow — there's not been the same sort of recovery there that we have seen in Spain and Italy.
Q: What is it Reifenhäuser Group's strategy for remaining competitive?
Reifenhäuser: Reifenhäuser Group has been doing well. The 2014-15 financial year will be an all-time high for the group's sales. How do we do this? There has been no strategic change: our strategy is all about technology.
We always try to develop our technology further. The slogan we used at K 2013 was “Rethinking Technology.” So the strategy is about improving the technology, but it's also about sometimes trying something different.
Internationally we have to be strong and that involves giving very good levels of service. It starts in the project phase and it is even more important for our technicians to be close to the customer afterwards in all our support services.
We want to make the difference. We want to surprise customers with special solutions, to be competitive and have service at the customer's side at the international level.
Q: Is Reifenhäuser Group planning to make more acquisitions? Which technologies does it want to add to its portfolio?
Reifenhäuser: We are very clearly focused on extrusion. The name we gave ourselves is “The Extrusioneers.” We will stick with the extrusion sector, but it is a wide field, so why not expand in that field? Will it happen? Yes. There is an acquisition we have announced — Enka Tecnica GmbH, the German spinneret manufacturer, which adds to our technologies.
Acquisition is the means to grow the market, but our technology portfolio will not be widened. We will not acquire other technologies, such as printing. We will not do converting.
Q: Apart from acquisition, how is Reifenhäuser Group planning to grow?
Reifenhäuser: I will be in Vietnam in April to open a new regional sales office. There will shortly be a sales office in Milan, Italy. We are widening our range of activities in Chile.
The group will open more regional sales offices in the future to be closer to the market in different regions. These offices give us a national ear, to really listen to what is going on in the local market.