Speaking at an Oct. 12 news conference at the Fakuma trade show, Christoph Steger, chief sales officer of the Engel Group, had a message that was optimistic yet cautious.
"The markets are recovering faster than expected," he said. "The demand is huge, and the plastics industry is taking a very dynamic approach to tackling the challenges of digitalization, climate change and the transformation of the automotive industry."
But, he noted, the outlook is marred by material bottlenecks, massive increases in raw material prices and the Corona pandemic, which has not yet been beaten, all of which create uncertainty in the market.
The surprisingly rapid upturn, accompanied by an uncertain outlook are characteristic of the changed market situation in the long term.
"The markets are becoming more volatile, more uncertain and demanding more flexibility from us," Steger said. Importantly, this has not led to a decrease in investment levels - Engel has invested 500 million euros in its operations since 2018. "Some 70 million euros has gone to research and development," he stressed.
Yet right now, he emphasized, the delivery bottlenecks in raw materials and components are by far the biggest challenge. Semiconductors, in particular, have become scarce on the market, due to the combined effects of the Coronavirus outbreak and the consequent shift seen in consumption trends - and the situation is now being exacerbated by surging demand following the end of the lockdowns.
As the shortages and pandemic-related delays in delivery continue to show no sign of abating and with current supplies of metal parts, plastics and raw materials at insufficient levels to meet demand, factories around the world are having to limit operations and slow production.
Engel has thus far avoided this fate, thanks to the "very good cooperation with our suppliers and our global network of plants," which has enabled the company to largely avoid delays in delivery, Steger noted.
One area that is clearly feeling the strain is the automotive industry, he added. That industry is showing a robust recovery from the collapse in sales volumes emerging in the year before the pandemic but that worsened as the COVID-19 crisis endured. Its comeback, however, has been both unexpected and fast.
"The investment backlog has cleared, investments are being made again, and worldwide," Steger said.