Technological watch

Climate change, circular economy take spotlight at K 2022

Düsseldorf, Germany — Organizers and sponsors of K 2022 are excited about being able to hold what they're calling the first international plastics trade show since 2019, although they're tempering their optimism because of concerns about the economy.

Officials highlighted three main themes for the 2022 show — climate protection, the circular economy and digitalization — at a June 20 news conference in Düsseldorf. K 2022 is scheduled for Oct. 19-26.

"We know that people are really longing to be face-to-face," Petra Cullmann, executive director of Messe Düsseldorf, said. "People are very eager to see technology and products; to touch them, to discuss with partners from the industry, and to enter into discussions about our relevant topics, trends and innovations.

"We all have spent so many weeks, months, sometimes years, in front of screens. So now we need to come together again," she said.

After years of lockdowns and restricted travel during the pandemic, Cullmann said Messe Düsseldorf expects K to draw attendees and exhibitors from around the world. The show is fully booked, with about 3,000 exhibitors from 61 countries.

"We have done presentations for K already in many countries abroad, in order to promote K to visitors, as we have done in the past. And from there, I can tell you that the response has been extremely positive," she said. "So we are looking forward to a very, very dynamic and vibrant K again," she said.

The trade fair business has been through "really very tough times" the past few years, but Messe Düsseldorf has held some shows this year, and "so far, at this point there are no restrictions" in holding live events, she said.

Cullmann emphasized that Messe Düsseldorf is in close contact with government authorities, and even if some COVID restrictions return, the show organizer is prepared to hold K as an in-person show.

"We have a very elaborate infection protection concept and safety concept in our hands. We have worked on that for the past two years. And just recently we have equipped the entire conference center, as well as the exhibition center, with HEPA filters that have high-performance devices that deliver clinically clean air into the halls while at the same time they reduce the energy consumption for heating and cooling. So we are well prepared to deliver for the global industries," she said.

Cullmann said the previous K shows have made recycling and the environment a high priority. A difference this year is the emphasis on climate change.

"Climate protection is on the agenda everywhere, it is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed on a global scale," Cullmann said. "There is no climate protection without plastic. When it comes to lightweight construction and e-mobility, when it comes to the use of solar or wind energy, this can't be done without plastics, they're an indispensable material for the circular economy in every aspect."

Ulrich Reifenhäuser, chairman of the exhibitor advisory board of K 2022 and chief sales officer for extrusion equipment supplier Reifenhäuser Group, highlighted how technology including digitalization can help solve pressing environmental problems.

"Digitalization plays a decisive role. Maybe the most important. If we talk circular economy, we directly go for recycling process. So how can we recycle plastic products? The first step is we have to redesign products, because lots of products, for let's say 95 percent of products, are not recyclable," Reifenhäuser said.

In recent years, industry has redesigned products to be more recyclable, introducing items such as monolayer pouches. But those are still too hard to recycle "because plastic products are still so different. The single ones might be recyclable, but overall it's a big rotten fruit salad that you cannot make anything out of."

But he highlighted that companies, including Reifenhäuser Group, are developing an R-Cycle digital passport that can be used in automated sorting equipment, telling recyclers what materials, additives, inks and fillers are in containers like trays, pouches and bottles.

"This is relevant for mechanical recycling or chemical recycling," Reifenhäuser said. "This sounds a little bit like a vision, but it is not a vision. … The system is designed and developed and there are already some very successful pilot projects on the way."

K is a major global machinery show, and European plastics machinery builders have some concerns about the current economy, according to Thorsten Kühmann, general manager for plastics and rubber machinery at the VDMA (Germany's Mechanical Engineering Industry association) and secretary general of Euromap (European Association of Plastics and Rubber Machines).

"The biggest challenge, from my point of view, is that the supply chain is very much a question. Deliveries to Ukraine and Russia, and from Ukraine and Russia, are quite impossible right now. Cable harnesses for the automotive industry are produced in Ukraine. That's one example. But there's even more. The lockdown situation in China. This has been going on for a very long time. We don't know how long it will continue, then the closure of the Shanghai harbor, that brings more pressure to the supply chain," Kühmann said.

He also cited rising prices for oil, natural gas and steel, and the difficulty in predicting future changes.

"That makes it difficult to calculate the cost of the machine, especially regarding long running projects," he said. "The good thing is we've got full order books. So the demand is there, certainly, but still, we expect a flat [sales outlook through the end of the year."

Euromap announced June 20 that the global production of plastics and rubber machinery grew by 13 percent in 2021 and reached a new record level of 38.6 billion euros ($40.5 billion). European plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers now account for 40 percent of global production.

China exported 5.7 billion euros ($5.9 billion) in equipment in 2021, and for the first time surpassed Germany as the No. 1 machinery exporter. Germany is now in second place, according to Euromap estimates, with export sales of 5.2 billion euros ($5.4 billion).

Publication date: 20/06/2022

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Last update: 2022-01-31