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It’s a tough situation, calling for courage

At annual conference of the trade associations of plastics and rubber machinery, waste and recycling technology, EMINT, and the project group for hybrid lightweight technologies, Ulrich Ackermann, Head of VDMA Foreign Trade, addressed the geopolitical changes and their impact on the mechanical engineering industry: "The globalisation of the world economy is coming under increasing pressure. China is placing its focus on autonomy, resulting in knock-on effects for the European mechanical engineering industry, and in the US, the Biden administration has continued the "national approach" of the Trump government's trade policy in recent years. As a result, the world is heading towards a new bipolar world order." For the European mechanical engineering industry, this means the need to have its own production facilities in large target markets and being able to offer market-specific products. Many plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers have already adapted in that regard.

Incoming orders slumped by 22 per cent in 2023

Despite the adverse conditions on the international markets, the German plastics and rubber machinery industry closed 2023 with a price-adjusted increase in turnover of 13 per cent. In nominal terms, the increase even amounted to 22 per cent. "This growth is pleasing and demonstrates that companies have been able to bring in many orders in recent years, which have now been successively filled. However, in the meantime, the signs have changed significantly worldwide. Most companies have worked through their order backlog and are currently facing up to the issue of underutilisation," explains Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Chairman of the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association. In addition to the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, high energy costs, inflation and high interest rates in particular are weighing on machine manufacturers, resulting in uncertainty and higher overheads, and therefore lower investment on the part of plastics processors.

Although some of the general economic conditions, such as energy costs and inflation, have returned to normal, the downward trend in new orders has not yet been halted. "After we already had to cope with a price-adjusted decline of 13 per cent in 2022, we recorded another 22 per cent fewer orders on the books last year, after adjusting for price changes. As a result, many companies were forced to take countermeasures by introducing reduced working hours," warns Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director of the Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association.

On the sales side, the current year remains challenging, due to a lack of new orders. Moving forward, when the uncertainty on the markets slowly subsides from summer onwards, and interest rates stabilise at a more tolerable level, investment in new machines will once again pick up, and the sales trend for this year will either see a sideways movement or slight drop, depending on how quickly new orders are received.

Mechanical engineering is a cyclical business. However, the current economic downturn in the plastics and rubber machinery industry is more than just a cyclical dip. "We cannot and must not play down the economic weakness resulting from the current situation. What we can do, however, is to focus on our strengths, utilise our innovative power, and use new solutions to solve current market issues in a surprising and precise manner," Reifenhäuser states with convinction. "This is the spirit with which the newly elected Executive Board will dedicate itself to its tasks."

European mechanical engineering companies provide the technology and digital solutions needed to tackle today's major challenges: more circular economy and recycling, climate protection through lower CO2 emissions, and machines and systems tailored to global customer requirements; that is where there are considerable opportunities. The new trade association board therefore fully supports the key themes of K 2025: "The Power of Plastics! Green – Smart – Responsible".

General meeting elects new Board of Directors

At general meeting, the company representatives elected the new Board of the Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association for 2024 to 2027. Ulrich Reifenhäuser remains Chairman of the Board:

 

  • Gerhard Böhm, ARBURG GmbH + Co KG

 

  • Jörg Bremer, KraussMaffei Group GmbH

 

  • Dr. Stefan Engleder, ENGEL Austria GmbH

 

  • Sandra Füllsack, Motan Holding gmbh

 

  • Manfred Hackl, EREMA Group GmbH

 

  • Thomas Holzer, TROESTER GmbH & Co. KG

 

  • Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik (Chairman)

 

  • Dr. Henning Stieglitz, Battenfeld-Cincinnati Germany GmbH

 

  • Markus Vollmer, Kampf Schneid- und Wickeltechnik GmbH & Co. KG

 

  • Dr. Axel von Wiedersperg, Brückner Group SE (Deputy Chairman)

 

  • Dr. Sascha Witt, Windmöller & Hölscher KG

 

  • Rainer Zimmermann, AZO GmbH & Co. KG
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