For a moment on the Fakuma show floor, Michael Heitzinger saw the recycling market through the eyes of a baker.
The managing director of Erema Engineering Recycling Maschinen und Anlagen GmbH likened the recycling equipment market to a cake that continues to expand in the oven. And there's enough for Erema and all of the fellow recycling equipment manufacturers to have a sizable slice.
"It's a big, growing cake," Heitzinger said while sitting in Erema's booth in Hall A6 of the Fakuma trade show. "I wish everybody a lot of business because we have so many things now. Recycling is coming from a niche product to mainstream."
Erema Engineering Recycling is the largest business portion for the Erema Group, making up some 86 percent sales. The Ansfelden, Austria-based firm already has orders stretching well into next year.
Clicking off names of other recycling equipment makers, the managing director said there is enough business for them all to succeed these days thanks to the intersection of politics and public will.
"The main driving point is the economical situation combined with the political situation. The target of more of the brand owners is we want to have a circle economy, we want to use recycled material on a high-level basis, not the downstream," he said.
With public sentiment becoming more receptive to recycled-content packaging, Erema has seen sales increase by 23 percent during the latest fiscal year and by an average of more than 15 percent during the last four years.
Many brand owners have come out with plastic recycling-content goals for 2025, and this is helping spur demand for more equipment to help meet higher supply expectations.
Increasing demand for additional PET recycling capacity has been the major driver for Erema in recent years, but Heitzinger said he expects polyolefin capacity demand soon will start having a larger influence on the recycling equipment market.
But meeting this higher demand for equipment has been no cakewalk for Erema. Supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 continue, and Erema still has twice-weekly meetings just to discuss issues.
Problems started thanks to the ongoing worldwide shortage of computer chips that has severely impacted many segments. But supply issues stretch well beyond electronics for Erema, Heitzinger said.
"We talk about simple parts like copper wiring. … We talk about … everything," the managing director said. "We don't even have the stainless steel for the electrical cabinets for making the covers. We've waited months for wiring for the U.S. market."
The company's twice-weekly meetings allow company officials to figure out alternate plans when necessary. "This is a very difficult part, because normally we try to have everything ready," Heitzinger said.
Travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19 also have caused Erema to reconsider its approach regarding installation and support of machinery installed around the world. The company, historically, would dispatch technicians from Austria to handle these duties.
But Erema has altered that approach through its network of 56 sales agents around the globe. The company has encouraged these independent agents, who receive commission when they sell equipment, to hire their own technicians to avoid COVID-19 travel delays instituted by each country.
These technicians then work in conjunction with Erema's own technical staff as needed. About 60 percent of all independent sales reps for Erema now have their own locally based technician, Heitzinger said.
Even with the hiring of these new technicians to work on Erema equipment, the managing director said growth in the company in recent years means no Austria-based technical staff has been eliminated.
In fact, he said, the company is having trouble attracting enough qualified people overall to help meet growth needs. Erema has hired more than 100 people during the last four years and now has about 600 workers.