Interview Italy: Cautious optimism as Italy emerges from recession
Export expansion has kept pace with end of 2014 supporting Italian plastic and rubber mould machine manufacturers against an internal market which only has started a timid recovery in the last few months. Our partner magazine ETMM talked to Alessandro Grassi, vice president of Assocomaplast, the association of Italian plastics and rubber processing machinery and mould manufacturers.
ETMM: How did Italy’s mould and machine makers fare in 2014?
Alessandro Grassi: With regards to sales of Italian machines in the foreign markets, there was a marked improvement in the European Union. Despite a slight reduction in exports in 2014, Germany remained the favoured commercial partner of Italian machine manufacturers, as well as their biggest competitor. That has to be set against a total failure of the non-EU markets, dragged down partly by an 11.9% decline in sales to Russia due to the sanctions applied after the Ukraine crisis and the fall in the value of the Ruble. Poor sales in Brazil (down approximately 11% in 2014 compared to 2013) influenced the overall trend in South America but there has been a moderate rebound in sales to Chinese converting companies (with Vietnam, Indonesia and India also exhibiting significant growth) compensating for the slowdown in South Korea, Japan and Thailand.
ETMM: What is the outlook for Italian plastic and rubber mould and machine makers in 2015?
Grassi: There are many positive signs, both at micro level and in the sector itself, that allows us to look at 2015 with cautious optimism. In the first three months of the year, Istat [Italy’s National Institute of Statistics] has registered a national gross domestic product (GDP) growth of the 0.3% (compared to the previous trimester), that technically speaking sees Italy out of the recession. Euromap, the European federation of machine manufactures association of 9 countries which includes Italy and Germany, has also forecast a 2% increase in European production for 2015 overall, with sales predicted to be worth an estimated €12.7bn. Demand for plastics and rubber processing machinery, equipment and moulds has remained positive in the first months of 2015. Assocomaplast’s last membership survey revealed optimistic expectations, with 45% expecting bigger increases in orders and turnover for the current semester and a quarter also expecting to see increased exports.
ETMM: How does Assocomaplast help its members?
Grassi: Manufacturers have put a lot of effort into producing product lines, machines and equipment which conform with Europeans security standards. They have also adopted low power machinery to improve the environmental sustainability of the conversion process and product lighter plastic components, particularly for customers in the automotive industry. In association with Euromap, Assocomaplast has helped to produce recommendations for an energy classification that defines a uniform measurement of energy consumption within plastics and rubber processing machinery (much like refrigerator with Class A/B/C etc).
ETMM: What new technology is most important?
Grassi: Additive manufacturing has recently arrived in the production department and rapid prototyping is now used at the development stage when pressing and injections are not cost effective to guarantee the quality, repeatability and affordability required in the industrial process. The field of 3D industrial printing applications is also diversifying as the sector begins to experience a ‘third industrial revolution’ that combines informatics with large scale production.
ETMM: What industries are the main buyers for Italian tool and mould makers?
Grassi: Companies making plastic components for cars, household appliances, rigid or flexible packaging have increasingly bought Italian machines and Italian entrepreneurs have also created customised machines to satisfy unique and specific requests. In the niche sector of the thermoplastic and rubber recycling market Italian machinery has been installed in many production plants across Europe and the US, and we have also seen demand growing in developing countries. Healthcare and medical research is a particular 3D application field.