Adrian Lunney's monthly Blog

Adrian Lunney, based in London, is a well-known business-to-business press and public relations agent, specialising in communication work in the plastics, packaging and environmental manufacturing sectors.

2021 – the rebound and a balancing act (March 2021)

Readers of the newly vamped WITTMANN Group website may have noticed a recent item in the news section there: “WITTMANN is looking ahead with optimism”. Michael WITTMANN notes that “based on the current order backlog and continuing very positive order situation we are looking forward to a two-digit increase in sales for 2021. From today’s point of view, we expect to reach the figure of 2019 once more and maybe even exceed it.” So what’s the secret? It seems like a mix of factors.

Firstly, there has to be some kind of rebound factor from the initial shock of the COVID pandemic which hit full force from March 2020. Nonetheless, the global plastics industry – and WITTMANN customers – showed considerable strength and resilience by doubling down, producing more and investing further from Q3 2020 onwards.

Second, it’s not too much to state that the WITTMANN BATTENFELD machinery brands have steadily gained traction year after year. The SmartPower in particular has iconic status among those who know its features well – especially its astounding energy efficiency performance and its easy integration of all forms of automation.

Third, the pandemic was noted for its emergency demands on manufacturing. Medical and healthcare products were needed from scratch and in a hurry. The WITTMANN Group’s “one-stop shop” meant therefore that a plastics processor could design, scale up and order a complete manufacturing production cell – all from one source, saving time and logistics.

Fourthly, there is no doubt that a shift of emphasis in marketing and in the group’s communication methods played a part. A new group website came into being, the endless circuit of global exhibitions was rested for a season and with the resources saved a successful online campaign in social media and business was launched. The refresh and the reboot appear to have been very positive.

All in all the current figures certainly are a cause for optimism – and for celebration. And now perhaps the supply side is poised at a critical point between demand and supply. Regular attendees of WITTMANN Group celebrations and parties in Vienna will no doubt recall that at some point in the evening the gathering is entertained to a troupe of acrobats – a reminder, perhaps that so many forms of business and engineering are successful balancing acts. Already it is looking as if the remainder of 2021 will be a test of balancing acts – of finding the right kind of supply in the face of vigorous demand. Once again the business matrix is changing and we must change with it.

2020 – tough and valuable lessons (December 2020)

The latest issue of WITTMANN’s “innovations” magazine has just hit the streets. There is plenty in it to interest, uplift and inform the plastics industry reader. Not least the editorial comment piece from Michael Wittmann. Michael’s assessment of the eventful year just gone is, as ever, straightforward, direct and something of a tonic at this time. There is so much constraint, uncertainty and doom mongering all around us that I wholeheartedly recommend that you find a copy of “innovations” online and read it through, if only to lift the spirits a little. For myself I have just a few points to add – lessons perhaps – that might help us on our way next year.

1. We survived. Many did not and will not. For all its ills the pandemic succeeded in stripping things down to the bone. It also redefined some fundamentals and essentials. Manufacturing – and its key role in preserving social interconnection, safety and cohesion – is one of those essentials.

2. General ignorance about manufacturing remains alarmingly high. In the early stages of global procurement panic, many – who should have known better – demonstrated an amazing ignorance about how things are actually made. Something that doesn’t yet exist – like PPE equipment – is not already lying in a warehouse. It needs to be specified, designed for manufacture, tooled, and then molded. All of which takes time, effort, creativity, brainpower and cost. If the 2020 pandemic has done nothing else, the continuing education of society and governments in this respect could and should be useful to all of us.

3. Plastics is health-preserving and life-saving. Although perhaps politically, we must not say so – at least not too loudly. The emergency manufacture and supply of gowns, screens, gloves, masks, and equipment of all kinds has been designed and made from various polymers with very little fuss and attracting scarcely any credit. Actions speak louder than words, and the performance of the plastics sector in this crisis has been exemplary.

4. There are plenty of other silver linings. The sensitivities, strengths and weaknesses of various global supply chains have been exposed. This is a good thing, since these chains can now be strengthened in the light of the pandemic. The impressive plastics industry performance in medicine and healthcare now bodes well for opportunities and new markets in modern industries such as electronics, telecoms, biopolymers and many other aspects of infrastructure.

In short, at this time of good will, there are actually some good reasons to be cheerful. The traditional Christmas message of hope and light in the darkness is perhaps needed more than ever. And so may I, as ever, wish all WITTMANN readers a very happy and peaceful holiday season, with optimism for the New Year.

The pandemic – looking for an upside (September 2020)

So much of the broad sweep of the current pandemic seems so devastating, nonsensical and incredible to the mind that it can be easy to overlook the limited number of positive developments found on the ‘side of the road’ so to speak. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is giving the global economy a relentless and destructive battering. Some industries are suffering more than most and some niche sectors may never recover – certainly not short term. Some of the side benefits of the pandemic, however, have been illuminated in interesting ways. The ‘stripping down’ of all world economies to their basic essentials has forced a new look at some typical activities and costs. For example, take something that might have been described until now as ‘the cost of doing business’. This obviously includes all hospitality, entertainment and social factors. However, these costs might also include: The time and cost spent travelling to work, to attending and showing at exhibitions and conferences, visits to customer factories and sites, to other business and trade gatherings, networkings and for in-company meetings – locally, in-house and internationally.

In its peculiar way COVID-19 has brought all of activities to a sudden halt. And when the company accountant tots up all the savings from not doing any these things – then those savings are not insignificant. On the flip side, the working from home phenomenon has delivered some comforts for people. However, many other problems have arisen. These are typically system-based. Sales people for large organziations, for example, have never been worked harder – not only by their customers (all online now) but also by their own company systems – or lack of them. In many cases – and operating in an online-only environment – sales people and order fulfilment people are spending as much time with each other as with the customer – trying to commuicate effectively and trying to regularly debug the CRM systems that are meant to help. This process has not been easy but there are many lessons to be learned in this area that will hopefully outlive the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, the power of the internet and of tools such as Zoom, Teams, Facebook, has been shown to be all-important. This is part of the reason why the WITTMANN Group is able to continue its ‘show and tell’ programme of technology innovation without skipping a beat. This year WITTMANN will not travel to exhibit at the postponed Fakuma exhibition in Southern Germany. Instead, all the new WITTMANN technology will be shown online and via special video presentations. Potential show visitors and customers will also be able to save time, cost and effort by viewing the new products and presentations online.

I suppose – given the severity of the pandemic problem – we should count any positives that have come our way. And as and when a ‘new normal’ resumes, we shall hopefully be better equipped to create better business together.

Initial details of the Fakuma 2020 presentations are here:

Injection Molding

Peripherals and Automation

Manufacturing – a healthy constant (April/May 2020)

Let’s be honest – it has been very hard to make much sense of the world throughout the past nine weeks. Many commentators are pointing out that the COVID-19 virus has “changed everything”, and that our societies have no way of predicting the “new normal”. Certainly, many things have been indisputably impacted and disrupted – not least the worlds of commerce, trade and world economies. Other matters that once seemed subject to consensus – healthcare and social policy for instance – now seem open to a variety of policy. Even the worlds of science and medicine have yet to provide us with singular and clear cut answers.

But what has seemed to be constant and enduring at this critical time is the power of manufacturing to help contain and control the virus. This global emergency has required a massive demand in the provision of healthcare items and medical devices. Many of the WITTMANN Group customers have been in the forefront of the supply side of this emergency. The spotlight has been on manufacturing to deliver –from the most complicated ventilator to the smallest face mask component. Governments and procurement agencies throughout the world have been subject to a very rapid education and learning curve – as to exactly what it takes to design, tool and mold components and devices and get them to market in record time. These circumstances are difficult and often tragic – but the cooperative lessons here – if properly learnt – will be valuable. These lessons of rapid manufacturing also inform the business of effective supply chains. Another area that has been vital to societies in these times has been the guarantee of food security. Many forms of packaging technology have lately been proving their worth in securing the supply chain “from farm to fork” and in keeping the produce fresher for longer.

In short, my impression is that plastic manufacturing technology has stepped up to the crisis in many ways and has proved itself to be indispensable to humanity at this time, sustaining and saving lives all over the world. If, as we hope, the crisis eventually passes we must hope that memories are not short and that the lessons of manufacturing endure.

The evolution of a quiet revolution (February/March 2020)

There once was a time when the workings of industry were carried out behind closed doors: society was segmented and organized so that the dark arts of manufacturing would typically not be seen or heard. These would be kept far from the consumer – the better to enjoy the benefits. The early achievements of the industrial revolution were often brutally won, involving hard physical endeavor on an epic scale involving masses of manpower and, inevitably, loss of manpower. Today – as we approach the “4th wave” of that revolution – we work in a completely different culture. Health and safety standards and life expectancy are growing worldwide. Multimedia and connectivity means that our global village has shrunk. The international manufacturing playing field has more transparency than ever before and increasingly looks more homogeneous across five continents. It also seems to be the case that the ordinary consumer is now much more aware of the role of industry: airports play host to business advertising for software, consultancy, the creative industries and many other topics that might have been obscure just ten years ago.

This convergence and levelling up is also happening in terms of the workforce: for example, we also see a continuing trend towards the presence of women in the manufacturing workplace. This trend is inevitable. For every ten hard hats in a prestigious large project, construction zone there will now be one worn by a woman engineer, mostly likely in a senior position. This seems unthinkable even 20 years ago. This trend is not happening fast enough for some – nonetheless it is definitely happening. For any one reading, the WITTMANN social media postings – or the excellent innovations magazine – it is clear that the WITTMANN Group is an early adopter of this phenomenon. Women are reaching the highest executive levels in the WITTMANN organization and are also taking up a good percentage of the apprenticeships and trainings on offer. This is good business. People sell to people, and a multiplicity of viewpoints in the buying criteria will embrace factors outside the merely function, technical and commercial. These criteria need to be understood and matched by suppliers. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to employ as wide a spread of sensibility and talent as possible in creating and manufacturing equipment and systems for the world.

In the UK – where Tracy Cadman has recently been appointed Joint Managing Director of WITTMANN BATTENFELD UK – this phenomenon has recently crystallized in the shape of an organization – specific to plastics:

Perhaps similar networks will now take root in other countries. The essence of our plastics sector – plasticity – implies something that is continually adapting and changing shape as it goes forward. As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, this phenomenon is certainly worth celebrating – in the WITTMANN Group and beyond.

A new year that promises further growth in depth (January 2020)

It seems that we have hardly sat down at our desks before the wheels begin to turn again on the international plastics marketing show. In a few days time the WITTMANN Group will be represented in Cairo at Egypt’s leading plastics exhibition, followed by exhibitions in Switzerland, then Russia. February allows for a swift intake of breath before the important Mexican industry event gets underway in early March, followed by the Eurostampi show in Parma, Italy. And so ends the first quarter of 2020.

The plastics industry is truly a global culture and language. The SmartPower, PRIMUS, and GRAVIMAX brands, for example, need no translation at any of these international events. And with a few cosmetic exceptions (in aesthetics of machine build) every country now speaks more or less the same manufacturing language. This interconnectedness has raised the bar for everyone. Quality-wise there is simply no option left in global plastics processing for making inferior products at lower cost. In that sense a “race to the bottom” on price is simply not possible. In the global plastics village things are continually levelling up not down. Looking to the future it makes complete sense that suppliers continue to assist their customers by enabling them to compete more effectively. This means more intelligent and more connected manufacturing. Most typically this means providing processors with one integrated, connected and transparent plastics processing system, a system that has complete functionality, one that can generate data in equal measure to moldings and one that also runs at the lowest possible energy cost.

We are of course in a period of transition and the above situation is often an ideal that many users can only strive for. Many plastics processors still work, for example, with legacy equipment of various kinds, mixing and matching various technologies, old and new, in order to satisfy the requirements of their customers. However, as the manufacturing landscape continues to level up and as the demands for quality, data, and traceability continue to rise – so the attractions of a “plug and produce” fully integrated system become inevitable. These upward trends are irreversible. In that sense the future of plastics remains bright. The Smart Factory or Industry 4.0 based workplace gives us hope for further innovation and progress.

On that positive note – a very Happy New Year!

Polymers in healthcare – the advert that plastics deserves! (November 2019)

Most of us in the plastics industry can be forgiven for getting comfortable with the day-to-day repetitive and fast cycling nature of the injection molding process. Industry practitioners will spend many days shaving milliseconds from cycle times and ensuring that 24/7 factory production achieves a faultless manufacturing of millions of parts per week. These are typical numbers and scenarios and many of us spend our working lives inside of these statistics. To many outside this world, however, these facts – and the performance of a fast cycling machine – are nothing short of miraculous.

I saw this for myself at the COMPAMED 2019 exhibition in Düsseldorf, November 18–21, taking up a position near to where the WITTMANN BATTENFELD MicroPower (fitted for cleanroom production) was producing medical parts. I lost count of the number of COMPAMED show visitors who were literally stopped in their tracks by this exhibit and who then also engaged the booth in conversation. As the WITTMANN Group booth personnel explained to me this “head turning” exhibit was serving as an excellent device for raising customer awareness and for attracting new business. It also seemed to me that this demonstration of micro medical molding was also serving a valuable purpose as an advertisement for the value of plastics processing generally.

Medical science advances by leaps and bounds with every annual MEDICA and COMPAMED show. Few would argue that the continuing innovation in life-saving devices and improved personal care was something not to be welcomed by the world. Few could therefore challenge the enabling role of polymer processing in that regard. No protests here. And what a contrast this performance makes to other end-use sectors for plastics today! In a few months time, for example, the same Düsseldorf Messe will play host to the world of packaging in the form of the triennial show interpack, May 7–13. My guess is that – thanks to social pressure and to post-use abuses and excesses – the lights in the plastics packaging technology showcase will be very much dimmed for 2020. Right or wrong, this is the way of the world. But for now at least, medical plastics still values the contribution and the functionality of many polymer based innovations. Long may this continue.

K 2019: Show and tell time at two booths! (October 2019)

With just under a fortnight to go real excitement is building ahead of the K 2019 exhibition in Düsseldorf. The WITTMANN Group has several “firsts” to consider in this particular edition of the K show – not least that for the first time WITTMANN BATTENFELD will occupy a significant portion of Hall 15 in the Messe. The enjoy innovation theme will be lifted high and proud across an additional 120 sq m of exhibition space in Hall 15. Also, for the first time, the WITTMANN/TEMI technologies (TEMIONE and TEMI+) will be shown at the K show and will be going through its paces for the benefit and education of visitors.

The TEMI Manufacturing Execution Software (MES) is designed to help show off the full potential of all the pioneering work in WITTMANN 4.0 can do. The benefits to the plastics processor are plentiful and the TEMIONE package can be scaled and provided for just one single machine – or else for a whole fleet (TEMI+) of machines or the entire factory. The WITTMANN Group has made the TEMI price very economical and so, hopefully, the K show will see a good volume of orders throughout the world.

Elsewhere the various new products in all areas of plastics processing are testimony to the theme of the company and the slogan for the show – enjoy innovation! The popular new VPower injection molding machine will be featured with COMBIMOULD and a sophisticated automation package. The circular plastics production economy will be demonstrated via a WITTMANN inline recycling cell, new kinds of environmental plastic materials will make their show debut. In short, there is a great deal of innovation to see!

Those visiting the triennial plastics exhibition later this month should, as ever, prepare for the sheer scale of the technology on show and should organize their routines accordingly. Plan every day and, if possible, make appointments ahead rather than leave contact on booths to chance. Wear comfortable shoes! Remember to schedule food, coffee and water through the day. If possible, take some time to educate yourself outside your specific field of interest. Injection molders could visit the blown film hall and film processors vice versa. Systematize your collection of information – notes, business cards, brochures, pictures, etc. – and organize your follow-up.

Finally, remember to enjoy innovation – at the WITTMANN Group booths, October 16–23.


WITTMANN booth: Hall 10/A04

Enjoy innovation – enjoy the K show! (July/August 2019)

Many of us industry veterans have mixed feelings when contemplating the upcoming eight days and nights of the triennial K show in Düsseldorf. This exhibition is truly an unrivaled opportunity to meet friends, old and new, to marvel at the multitude of advances in plastics technology and, of course, to market one’s company in search of new business. The show also reminds one that there are never enough hours in the day to get things done; that you had better travel with a good pair of comfortable shoes – you are going to get a lot of walking done! You had also better arrive with a good plan in order to not miss the opportunities available. K 2019 is a feast that comes around every three years. And if you try to consume everything at the feast you’re going to end up a little bit sick. And this is one reason why shrewd visitors will very carefully manage their expectations. They will study the catalogue and the Messe layout beforehand and they will then make a realistic schedule of who they intend to visit and how long for – including walking time, meal and break times and so forth. Expert visitors will also not forget to make forward appointments with exhibitors – and make these well before the doors open on October 16th. Without pre-planned appointments their visiting time will be spent shuttling back and forth hoping for a gap in the exhibitor’s schedule. The WITTMANN Group hints at another way to tackle this year’s K show – and that is simply to enjoy it. Enjoy innovation is the slogan for K 2019 and WITTMANN BATTENFELD has taken up its biggest space yet in Hall 15 (an extra 120 square meters) in order to prove it.

Let’s just take a step back here and notice that so much of today’s plastics technology is simply mind-bogglingly amazing – not only to ordinary people but also to scientists and engineers. I have toured exhibitions with friends in other disciplines such as quantum physics, microbiology and chemistry who are simply dumbstruck at the brilliance in modern manufacturing. In these circumstances what else is there to do at the K show but to remember to enjoy it from time to time?! Every focused business visitor or exhibitor should therefore take a little time out to simply enjoy what is under their noses – especially with regard to exhibits, materials and technologies outside of your immediate field of business interest.

For the user and injection molder of course, to enjoy innovation primarily means to enjoy the benefits of innovation – the time saving automation, the energy savings in temperature control, materials handling and granulation, the transparent and documented injection molding process (enabled by WITTMANN 4.0), the modular construction of the equipment. The WITTMANN Group booths will provide everything needed here – and in every facet of injection molding. Enjoy innovation is a subtle and somewhat radical suggestion: To fully enjoy something means finding a moment’s peace in a too-busy world. To truly contemplate something in its entirety allows the mind to be still and to be receptive to innovation. And this attitude then helps give birth to further and further innovation.

What better wish then for our readers to enjoy innovation, enjoy WITTMANN and to enjoy this year’s K show!

“It sounds more like a computer than a machine?” (June 2019)

There can always be undoubted value in communicating one’s particular expertise in a new setting and to new people. Sometimes – when you strip the message back to basics – certain features can spring out and surprise. The people of Plas.TV (an online TV station for the plastics industry) are doing a great job in previewing and publicizing the upcoming K exhibition in Düsseldorf October 15–23. Part of their preview style is to present quick-fire video snapshots of key exhibitors in 2019. The global plastics industry covers a multitude of technologies and the Plas.TV folk are mindful of the need to do it all justice before October!

The Plas.TV visit to WITTMANN BATTENFELD in Kottingbrunn earlier this year was very interesting: It captured the raw experience and reactions of the reporter – from the moment he was greeted by host, Dr. Werner Wittmann up to the goodbye handshake with General Manager, Michael Wittmann. Here – to put it plainly – was someone “off the street” and looking to define the essence of an injection molding machinery supplier – and within three to four minutes! The first thing the reporter noted – inevitably – was the scale of production in Kottingbrunn. The new factory has never looked better. “Like a car factory”, noted our reporter, rushing past scores of machine build assemblies on his way to find out about processing. The middle part of his preview interview was therefore about processes, the material and the “energy” within the machine. The final part of the interview – with Michael Wittmann – dealt with how the WITTMANN Group is helping customers define, refine and manage that process and how that leads into Industry 4.0 and the smart and connected factory.

I think our Plas.TV reporter did pretty well. Today’s injection molding cells – as designed and built by the WITTMANN Group – are indeed more like computers than the machines of yesteryear. The precision, quality control, transparency and energy saving aspects of such connected and computerized manufacturing is an undoubted good thing.

It is fantastic that part of the K show promoters are enthusiastic for video and have invested in it. It means that you can watch the entire interview for yourself – right here.

Enjoy – and see you on the WITTMANN Group booths at the K Show!

Is business social? (May 2019)

No one can doubt that today’s world is redrawing all of the old boundaries that once used to contain and separate certain human activities, public and private, work and leisure, business and recreation. As regards communication and connectivity human society is now in a period of transition. We are all – depending on age, custom and generational upbringing – affected, and are also coping, in different ways. Whatever our individual preferences it is clear that society, industry, politics, business, can no longer be separated and sorted into separate compartments or silos. Like it or not, all of these forces are increasingly seen as co-existent, inter-related, and on the “same page”.

Despite these developments and the resulting pressures, social degrees of choice appear to remain for the individual: A private individual life is theoretically still possible as long as the person manages to refrain from Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Pinterest, and all other so-called “social media” platforms. Concerning business, the communication choices are of a different order. The primary aim purpose of business, of course, is wealth creation. It is natural that most business communications will be geared towards that objective. However, as said, business is increasingly mindful of its place within society and of the mutual effects.

There is, perhaps a half-way house – between social and business – that is ready made for a newer style of communication today. The LinkedIn platform, for example, sets out its stall quite explicitly as the venue for professional sharing and business communications. In the old language this is also partly the place for business “networking”, a concept that business has understood for quite some time. These online spaces are for the discovery of mutual opportunity – not designed for “hard selling” but for more indirect forms of messaging and communications. With some notable exceptions, business therefore appears to becoming increasingly sophisticated in delivering its message. Many companies, for example, will applaud and uphold the performance and the principles of other companies, rightly promoting common values and goals. It is delightful that the WITTMANN Group has lately taken to LinkedIn like a duck to water. For one thing there are so many facets to the WITTMANN global family that only a wide ranging platform such as LinkedIn will serve to tell all of the many stories. If you’re not already a LinkedIn member I advise you to check out the experience (it’s free!), and then head on over to the WITTMANN Group. It’s business and it’s social. Enjoy!

Showing the full picture (April 2019)

I have written here before about the changing nature of the media: For those like myself who learned their trade in the sunset years of hot metal and printing presses the media revolution continues to amaze on a daily basis. The journalistic profession, for example, continues to demand ever more from its practitioners. As usual, it is a question of economics: The industry no longer supports the old division of labor into tasks such as editor, sub-editor, journalist, art and layout editors, production editor, photographer, illustrator etc. Thanks to the media revolution the journalist – or content provider – must increasingly do all of these jobs and in a mobile fashion. In addition, “run and gun” video work and editing must be added to the skill set. In the world of manufacturing my intuition is that the media revolution is set to give us many more possibilities to explore in the coming years.

For example, thanks to advancing technology, OEM customers may quite easily create “portals” whereby they can “see” into the entirety of their supplier’s manufacturing activities 24/7. Industry 4.0 competences will offer these customers complete transparency and traceability in relation to supplier manufacturing, the quality of the product and the data thereby generated. In time and in the future, a system of video and audio links will perhaps also give them insights into the human and management picture at their suppliers. And these developments will, no doubt, help alert all in the supply chain to impending issues and bottlenecks. In all of these developments the standardization of protocols, software and equipment language will be key. And, as is obvious, transparency will be unavoidable. It seems likely that businesses that are ready and able for this challenge of transparency will survive and prosper. The option of working behind closed doors in today’s connected world is becoming increasingly rare. And it therefore follows that – in order to get a true “win-win” from these arrangements – the necessity of a true business partnership comes increasingly to the fore: These important business partnerships typically evolve together and over a period of time.

The WITTMANN “one-stop shop”, for example, is a clear invitation to such a partnership and Linear Plastics – based in South Wales, UK – is a company that has grown and evolved together with WITTMANN BATTENFELD UK. I could attempt to write and tell you about it – “old school” – but instead and in the spirit of transparency and new skills, I offer you that story in the shape of a short video. Sometimes there is nothing quite like film/video to make the point, convey a full picture and to let the company speak for itself. Enjoy!

What does a K year mean? (March 2019)

Any plastics industry insider will at this point in the year be alive to the defining characteristic of 2019 … and 2022 … and 2025 … Almost since it began the Düsseldorf K (“Kunststoffe”) Show – October 16–23, 2019 – has taken pride of place as the “Daddy” of all such plastics exhibitions. Our global plastics village now embraces all corners of the international manufacturing world – from Shanghai to Seattle – and still the K Show leads this field.

It is not that the various continents of the world – and their suppliers – can do without their own exhibitions. Within the space of a few weeks, for example, the WITTMANN Group is exhibiting in both the Brazilian and the Mexican plastics trade shows. These are large and growing markets and the company is surely right to be there and to be selling its production solutions. And yet it seems that there can be no substitute – visiting or exhibiting – for the K Show. Regardless of local markets we will also see many Brazilian, Mexican and all manner of international buyers and sellers travelling to Düsseldorf this October. It is not that this triennial event remains a static entity and fails to reflect global trends. On the contrary. Nothing to my mind has been more stark over the past thirty years, for example, than the near disappearance of the multi-story booths of the polymer material giants from the Düsseldorf Messe. Of course, many other interests have come forward to take their space. But if you didn’t witness this happening over time you might not have believed it. And that perhaps is the point – seeing is believing. And to see it you just have to be there … at K. In that sense the K Show is the true insider’s show – a place where commercial strategy and news, available technology and available budgets all meet together. All the plastics processes are represented there – all materials, all polymers and all machinery and production solutions. The plastics processing sector is an extremely broad one and (barring a few specialties) K has it all. Secondly – and this may perhaps be a weakening trend – many K exhibitors still save up their most important and radical innovations to exhibit every three years. In this way the K Show is enabled to claim leadership in plastics innovation.

If there is a weakness with the K Show it happens to be one that is shared by the entire user base. It is this – that despite its continuing ubiquity in daily life plastics continues to gain in unpopularity. In a Facebook-dominated world, being liked is everything and no entity – not even the K Show – seems to have the power to convince the world of the positive virtues of plastics. “To some problems there are no solutions”, the saying goes – and perhaps this issue is one of them. Meantime all plastics roads will now lead to Düsseldorf this coming autumn where the health of the industry will be fully explored over the eight days of the show.

Servant or master? (January 2019)

Any casual observer to a city center, public space or public transport might be forgiven for thinking that most of the population is, for most of the time, mysteriously under the spell of their shiny portable devices. Communications technology that has been designed and intended for service seems instead to be clearly in the “driving seat” in terms of setting agendas and choices for the user. It can be argued that this increasing world of online convenience is reducing the capacity to think and act, shielding people from the business of encountering problems and solving them, using one’s own resources, education and training.

Whatever the background facts and reasons, the same observer might make a connection to today’s manufacturing economy, which, in most places, faces a growing shortage of workplace skills. The gulf seems to be widening between the opportunities and complexities of Industry 4.0 based production and the human abilities and training that is needed to accomplish it. The WITTMANN Group has always attended to the machine/human interface in meticulous detail. From the earliest robots to the latest SmartPower injection molding machines, one common thread has been class-leading workplace ergonomics and user friendliness. In that sense the WITTMANN Group has always put its evolving plastics technology firmly in the service of the human being. And now, new in 2019, WITTMANN has created further assets in order to help companies tackle these growing issues of skills and training. Enhanced and clearly written software packages such as QuickEdit, TextEditor and Wizard are helping staff to successfully program and manage the automation interface on the factory floor. As WITTMANN’s robotic hardware and control systems have developed – the R9 robot control is the latest such – so has the company’s supporting software for the human interface.

All the arguments for workplace automation were won quite some time ago – at least in plastics processing. No one could ever argue that standing by a machine and cutting off sprues with a knife every 40 seconds was ever going to be worthy of the word “work”. Automation has undoubtedly played a key role in upskilling and repositioning a workforce away from such menial tasks and into job setting, programming and other creative issues and processes. Full details of these programs and their abilities are available here:

May this new year bring us all a little more offline time – connected to our own creativity and ability to set the future agenda.

Adrian Lunney

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