Milan, Italy — The Italian trade association for the manufacturers of plastics and rubber processing machinery, Amaplast, is predicting negative sales results for 2020.
The estimate is based on figures for the period January-September and persisting economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Milan-based association, foreign trade data from ISTAT, the largest producer of statistical information in Italy, indicated a 17 percent drop in imports and a 14 percent drop in exports for the first nine months of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. While still positive at more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.64 billion), the trade surplus nonetheless showed a 13-point contraction.
The year was characterized by a rough beginning, which particularly affected the domestic market. Although the situation improved somewhat after the trough in May, total production for 2020 is likely to be in the neighborhood of 3.6 billion euros ($4.3 billion), an 18 percent fall vs. the 4.4 billion euros ($5.3 billion) reported in 2019, according to Amaplast estimates.
A similar result is expected in the consolidated year-end results for foreign trade. Looking at the geographical markets, Asia and North America have lost ground, while the market in Europe has strengthened somewhat.
These results were entirely predictable, given the global economic impact of COVID-19, the group said.
There are no signs that the pandemic will abate in the short term. As the second or even third wave sweeps the country, machinery manufacturers are increasingly adapting. Some have successfully introduced complex remote installation and maintenance procedures, ensuring their customers' production continuity, particularly in sectors such as packaging and medical that have suffered less from the crisis. The cost savings deriving from reduced in-person technical service may be an important innovation for the future.
These developments have also been facilitated by the ongoing research and development in Industry 4.0 features and interconnected production environments. As well, digitalization is enabling the collection of huge volumes of data that can be used to optimize production.
And while the pandemic has temporarily distracted public opinion and softened negative criticism of plastics, the plastics machinery industry has not lost sight of its circular economy ambitions. Technology suppliers have continued their efforts to develop energy-saving solutions for the efficient processing of recycled materials.
At the same time, the industry is looking ahead with trepidation at the European Union's plastic tax for businesses in the sector, due to go into force July 1.
According to Amaplast, the uncertainty generated by the pandemic makes any forecast for the coming year tentative at best. The association said that a rebound, while likely — thanks to the impulse from exports, which have always been the mainstay of the Italian plastics and rubber industry — will fail to be enough to push the figures back up to where they were before the crisis.