The mood at the annual general meeting of the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association (VDMA) June 17 was upbeat, as were the results for 2020 presented there.
"After a difficult start, which was characterised by major challenges including a lockdown, incoming orders showed a rapid increase from the summer onwards," Ulrich Reifenhäuser, chairman of VDMA's Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, reported.
This was evident, not only in the sectors where this might be expected such as the packaging and medical industries, but also in the automotive and the construction industries. While the latter has been booming for some time, the automotive industry has been notoriously reluctant to invest in capital expenses for several years.
"All this resulted in a 7 percent increase in incoming orders compared to 2019, making plastics and rubber machinery manufacturing one of the few machinery sectors to close out 2020 with fuller order books than in 2019," Reifenhäuser said.
Sales, however, were down 12 percent compared with the previous year, as a result of a slowdown in 2019 that carried over to the start of 2020 when the pandemic hit. Sales are now bouncing back, showing an 8 percent increase in the first four months of 2021, while order intake was up 92 percent, almost double that of the same period in 2020.
The outlook for 2021 is excellent, with the strong incoming order volumes leading many companies in the plastics and rubber machinery sector to project record results this year, VDMA said. The trade association forecasts a sales increase of at least 10 percent.
The current primary concern is the shortages seen in components and raw materials, said Thorsten Kühmann, managing director of the Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association.
"Economically, the industry is currently doing very well again," he said. "However, this also has its downsides in the strained supply chains. … In particular, the bottlenecks in the supply of plastics, which is impacting the willingness on the part of manufacturers to invest, as well as in the sector of metals and electronic components, could soon lead to the paradoxical situation of machine manufacturers having to curb production despite full order books."
2020 also saw exports of German plastics and rubber machinery abroad fall by 11 percent. The big exception was the U.S. With an 8 percent rise in machinery deliveries, the country ranked as the No. 1 export destination. Exports to China, the second most important destination country, were down by 3 percent, although surging demand means that local production there is running at full speed, at both domestic and foreign manufacturers. All in all, China remains the most important sales market for German plastics and rubber machinery, with the remaining BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia and India accounting for a 23 percent share of worldwide deliveries of German plastics and rubber machinery.
Looking ahead to 2022 — a K fair year — the megatrends of the circular economy, climate protection through CO2 reduction and digitalization will remain the defining themes, the association said.
"With the Circular Economy Forum at the next K, our aim is to convince through solid, practical examples and to generate impulses," Kühmann said. "We are dedicating ourselves to this task through the exhibition and program presented."
The general meeting also elected a new board that will serve until 2024. Reifenhäuser, who is also managing partner of Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik, was reelected chair. The new board will dedicate itself, among other things, to improving the image of plastics and further promoting the plastics recycling industry.