With three business units represented at Fakuma 2021, the Reifenhäuser Group, aka The Extrusioneers, has brought a sizable presence to the show here in Friedrichshafen. We asked Mr. Ulrich Reifenhäuser, CSO of the Reifenhäuser Group about returning to in-person shows after an almost two-year hiatus and talked a little about the effects in general of the pandemic on business and on the company’s various projects.
Let’s start with the show. It’s been a while – almost two years – since the last major live plastics trade show was held here in Germany. Or in Europe, for that matter. How did you feel about having to go completely digital during the pandemic? And did it require much adjustment in the way you communicated with the market?
For us, live trade shows are essential. And of course, we had to adapt. We expanded our digital channels during the Corona pandemic, putting a strong focus on virtual events. In fact, these will continue to play a much stronger role in the future – but considering that our business is about big investments, personal trust is what counts when it comes to making a purchase decision. And that is something that cannot be built up via video calls alone. That's why we're glad to finally be able to meet our customers in person again.
And Fakuma is an excellent venue for this, in a particularly beautiful region of Germany, right on Lake Constance.
That’s very true - as far as venues go, it would be hard to find one in an area with more scenic beauty. However, the action for those in the industry is mostly indoors, in the halls of Messe Friedrichshafen. Your stand is in Hall A6 (A6-6206). Is it the same size it always was, or have you had to make adjustments?
Unfortunately, we have had to reduce the size of our stand due to the new Corona specifications. However, if this means that we can hold another trade fair at all, we are happy to accept this!
What about your customers who may be hesitant to attend or simply unable to travel:
is there any kind of virtual possibility to visit the stand?
Yes, last year, during the pandemic, we digitized our technology center at our main site making a 360-degree visit possible, in order to be able to demonstrate our lines to customers virtually. Visitors can experience this guided 360-degree tour both on site in Friedrichshafen at the trade show and from their home screens - and not only during Fakuma, but of course also beyond!
The last big plastics show in Europe was, I think, K 2019. What have been the main developments at Reifenhäusersince then?
A lot has happened in the past two years. Probably the most impressive developments revolve, of course, around sustainable plastics production. Thus, the focus of this year's Fakuma is also on the change from a linear to a circular economy and the resulting new requirements for components and production lines. When processing recyclate, the extruder in particular plays a decisive role, as the recyclate quality often fluctuates and impurities or abrasive ingredients must also be processed safely. Therefore, we offer our customers correspondingly highly wear-resistant screws and barrels.
In addition, we have also worked a lot on the design of sustainable and fully recyclable end products. Here, we have developed line concepts in both the flat film and blown film sectors that produce high-performance films, even with barrier function, on a mono-material basis.
Can you tell me something about the highlights visitors can look forward to at the stand?
As we are represented at Fakuma with three of our business units, we naturally have a large number of highlights.
Our Reifenhäuser Extrusion Systems component unit focusses on the world-renowned Reiloy screws and barrels. We are the only manufacturer to develop and produce the hard material alloys for wear protection ourselves. This enables customers to achieve verifiably longer service life, precise matching of raw materials and additives, and exclusive alloys with powders developed in-house and process-optimized surfaces.
The trade show highlight of our Reifenhäuser Cast Sheet Coating flat film unit is the new MIDEX 11-2500 cast sheet line with MDO. The line is a real all-rounder and impresses with its enormous application versatility. From CPP and CPE films to barrier, hygiene and technical films, customers can produce a wide variety of products and thus react flexibly to rapidly changing market requirements. In addition, sustainable end products can be produced, for example, by downgauging and changing classic multi-material barrier films to "mono films".
Our third business unit “Reifenhäuser Blown Film” is also committed to producing end products that can be fully recycled. The technological answer here is EVO Ultra Stretch - Reifenhäuser's advanced stretching unit for sustainable blown films. Customers use it to produce mono-material composites (All-PE film) for flexible packaging. In this process, the otherwise usual PET layer is replaced by stretched PE. With a stretching rate of up to 10, Ultra Stretch gives the PE film completely new mechanical properties for simple PET replacement, without the need to adapt further processing steps. The unique and patented position of the stretching unit directly in the haul-off of the blown film line makes the process particularly stable and efficient.
What I was also wondering: before the outbreak of the pandemic, you announced a major investment programme that would see very sizable construction and expansion projects at Troisdorf and elsewhere. How is that coming along? Have these plans been affected by the pandemic?
We are fortunate in that our growth projects are running according to plan and continued to do so even during the pandemic. We were even able to successfully conclude a strategic acquisition recently and acquired a majority stake in Kdesign GmbH, one of the world's leading manufacturers of cooling rings and measuring systems for blown film lines, in the spring of this year. In this way, we are further expanding our in-house competence for cooling, controlling, measuring and calibrating blown films in order to provide customers in this segment with even more significant competitive advantages in the future.
And just in general, how has the pandemic affected your business – has it created new opportunities, for example? Challenged you to come up with new solutions?
After initial uncertainty in the market, the situation has fortunately developed very positively for Reifenhäuser. In addition to the extremely successful nonwovens sector, which experienced a unique wave of orders due to the enormous demand for respiratory protection nonwovens, the films sector also felt increasing growth. Here, the pandemic has generally increased demand for high-performance packaging - especially for food, hygiene and medical products. Hygiene awareness has increased worldwide and plastic films provide effective protection against the spread of infectious diseases in many areas.
A huge problem right now impacting industries across the board is that of container availability. Are you experiencing any supply issues or are you otherwise affected by the current problems of container shortages?
The problem of container availability affects us to the same extent as all market participants - especially in the supply chain. However, we have so far been able to maintain our own delivery capability and the throughput times of our products through timely procurement, stockpiling or alternative procurement sources, and substitution.
Lastly, Mr. Reifenhäuser, what do you expect the Fakuma to bring?
Fakuma marks the new start in the live trade show business for the German plastics industry. We hope for more personal exchange with our customers and partners. Even though we cannot yet expect visitors from all corners of the globe this year due to ongoing travel restrictions, we are very pleased to finally be able to hold direct face-to-face conversations again. This is simply much more engaging and offers many more opportunities than communicating exclusively online.