As K 2022 got underway, everyone was trying to determine how attendance would be impacted at the world's biggest plastics trade show.
But despite everything, Wittmann CEO Rainer Weingraber noted in an interview with Sustainable Plastics that "they are here."
Q: Are you pleased with how it has been going until now?
Weingraber: Yes. We've had a lot of good discussions and a lot of traffic to the booth (Hall 15, Booth C06). And while today's soaring costs of travel or travel restraints may affect the number of drop-by visitors, the number of business visitors has been at a good level. They are here. It's why we also have roughly the same number of people here as we usually do. It is important that our customers can meet and talk with the person they normally have contact with, someone who knows what the customer needs and [their] specifications.
These are relationships that are built on trust and it is, after all, why we come to these shows. Everyone is in one place; they can come to the stand and there is the opportunity to show all the new products. I am very proud of all the exhibits and the machines we have here.
It's also good to be exhibiting under one name. Our customers can now physically see what has always been our strength: our ability to deliver everything from one hand.
Q: The highlight of the stand in Hall 15 is clearly the EcoPower with the solar panels on top, I think?
Weingraber: Yes, while of course all our exhibits are interesting, this one is truly unique. It's a concept machine. If a customer requests one, we can supply it, but it's not part of a series. The idea is that the company can run the machine on its own grid, using wind energy or solar energy, and allowing it to be independent from the public grid. This possibility is becoming more and more interesting for the industry. It is a development that is still only at the very beginning, but we wanted to be ready for it — to get ahead.
We are showing it here because the K show is always the place to demonstrate innovations.
Q: How are economic factors like increasing interest rates, inflation and high energy costs affecting your customers? Have you noticed a difference?
Weingraber: Orders have slackened, as you already heard. But I think the level will generally remain good. After the COVID crisis, we had a very strong recovery. The market was already overheated in the first half of 2022. Now, with the rising interest rates, there is a cooling-down period in some parts of the industry — but not all parts. There are still some sectors that haven't been affected.
Q: What about internally? How are these factors affecting your operations?
Weingraber: For us, the main challenge is to handle the supply chain, which is still severely disrupted, in order to support deliveries. The delivery time for a new machine, depending on the product line, is anywhere from 28 weeks to a year.
Q: Let's talk a bit about energy efficiency. Is it something your customers ask about specifically?
Weingraber: Definitely. There is an interest in energy efficiency. And in fact, rising energy costs have given us an additional boost as we claim to have the most energy-efficient machines in the market, which we can prove via measurements. It's where our focus is. When we acquired the Battenfeld brand more than 10 years ago, we started by renewing and updating the technology of the machines. We looked at three specific points: energy efficiency, a small physical footprint and service availability. These were, for us, the three important aspects to be addressed. We invested in new components and technology to improve the machine's energy efficiency, which for us may have been expensive, but that saved money for our customers.
Just a few weeks ago, we measured the efficiency of one of our new machines against an old Battenfeld for a customer, and the new one was 70 percent more efficient. In fact, we tell our customers that if, after they buy a machine, they discover it is less energy efficient than a different brand, they can simply return the machine.
Q: How do you view the progress made toward a more circular economy since K 2019?
Weingraber: The industry is taking circular economy seriously and understands it is necessary. We see progress in all sectors, but there is still a way to go for governments and companies. Also, it depends on where you are in the world.
As machine builders, our role is to support the circular economy within the injection molding process. And we do this in different ways.
For example, our Ingrinder machine, as the name suggests, has an integrated grinder for sprues, ensuring that the sprues are automatically caught, ground up and fed back into the injection molding process. Our machines are also all capable of easily processing recycled material — it is not an issue at all. We have software modules to handle the variation in quality of the material that keeps the process running within the required parameters — basically, an additional help, support for the operator.
Q: What about the other two themes here at K: digitalization and climate change?
Weingraber: We drive digitalization through the products like Wittmann 4.0, Temi+ MES System or Imago energy monitoring system. And a lot more is made by our group member Wittmann Digital.
Climate change is supported by our energy-efficient machines and equipment. Here, we provide solutions that reduce the emissions of our customers significantly.