Q: How are sales into the medical market? Still strong from manufacturers of pipette tips for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations? Or tapering off?
Liebig: Demand is still historically high, although in the last two years it has slightly decreased. Fifteen years ago, the medical machine market share in Europe was 5 percent. It is currently 15 percent and in the future is expected to fall slightly to around 12 percent.
Q: Are economic factors like increasing interest rates and higher energy costs hurting sales? Are customers delaying purchases because it costs more to borrow? Is the repair business growing? Or are customers modernizing their fleet to reduce energy usage?
Liebig: We see three main effects; high energy costs generally leads to lower investments. However, this also leads to more new investments in all-electric machines. Additionally, demand for our service and spare parts business is at a very high level. Typically, we experience this service and spares business peak at the beginning and towards the end of a crisis.
Q: The circular economy remains a unifying theme for K 2022 and Sumitomo will participate in a special forum about it. What is the company's role in the form and what is its message to K show attendees?
Liebig: Our ambition is to reduce the use of material by improving the process and enabling our customers to produce ever-thinner-walled parts with our solutions. Various approaches to material or process technologies are conceivable here. One example is foaming, which reduces the amount of material required — exhibited at K 2022 at the circular economy stand at VDMA. Recyclate processing is not an insurmountable technological challenge. We process many materials — recyclates have now broadened the material range. The challenge is to control nonuniform material properties through intelligent process monitoring.
Q: What is the significance of the K theme digitalization to Sumitomo?
Liebig: Digitalization is very important to us. At K 2022, we will extend our digital tools, launching our newest smart solution: myAssist. Increasing process transparency, the new tool will be displayed on three individual exhibits. This gives injection molders the facility to gain even deeper insights into process parameters. With myAssist, we are marking the next stage in our journey from process analysis to digital validation and digital product pass. This is an evolving system with further developments already in the works.
Q: How about climate change? What is the role of machine builders?
Liebig: Climate neutrality plays a key role within the Sumitomo Group. The most important way to achieve this is through our unwavering focus on all-electric machinery, which leads to significant savings in CO2 emissions. Six years ago we converted one of our two sites in Germany to the production of all-electric machines. This was initially a difficult step as it meant losing at the time an order volume of around 20 percent. However, our decision turned out to be far-sighted: Given this shift towards sustainability, we now have a huge competitive advantage.
Q: Do you think the more casual atmosphere at Fakuma 2021 marked the end of executives wearing ties at trade shows?
Liebig: I did not pack any tie. It is the relic of past business times, with complex dress codes that we took great pain to teach our sons no longer existing; the tie is dead. [COVID] meant for one and half years, formal attire remained tucked away in our closets.
Although resurrections were planned for the occasion of Fakuma, with 90 percent of visitors and exhibitors conducting business meetings from home, this never happened. Symbolically, the tie has endured for 400 years. It's now an artifact representing former business times — forever forgotten in the darkness of the drawer.
Climate neutrality plays a key role within the Sumitomo Group. The most important way to achieve this is through our unwavering focus on all-electric machinery, which leads to significant savings in CO2 emissions."