The mass production of plastics started in 1950s and has since increased nearly exponentially: when in 1950 plastics were produced 1.7 million tons per year, in 2014 the annual global production reached 311 million tons. In reality, the total quantity is even higher since these numbers do not include fibers made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyamide (PA), polypropylene (PP) and polyacryl. It is estimated that the plastic production could approach to almost 2 000 million tons by 2050 if the production and use trends do not decline.
Plastic is a light-weight, durable, cheap and easily modified material, which is probably why its usage increased rapidly and is still growing. Plastics are extensively used in our everyday life – wherever you look, you will probably find something made of plastic. In Europe the largest sectors utilizing plastics are packaging (39.5 %), building and construction (20.1 %) and automotive industry (8.6 %). In addition, plastic is also used in electrical and electronic industry (5.7 %) and agriculture (3.4 %). Other uses form a large part of plastic usage (22.7 %) and include sectors such as consumer and household appliances, furniture, sport, health and safety.
Different plastic products have distinct properties, which can be seen for example in their thermal-resistance, density and structure, which are largely dependent on the additives used in manufacturing. In general, plastics can be divided into thermoplastic and thermoset materials. When heated, thermoplastics can be repeatedly molded and deformed, whereas thermoset materials cannot be remolded after their formation. Thermoplastics are more common and include for example polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene (PS). Common examples of thermosets are polyurethane (PUR) and epoxy resins or coatings.
The most common polymer type is polyethylene (PE), which accounts for 29.3 % of total plastic demand in Europe followed by polypropylene (PP) with its 19.2 % share. They are commonly used for example in food packaging.
The K, the world’s leading trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry, ended after eight days on Wednesday (October 23, 2019) in Düsseldorf. The 3,333 exhibitors from 63 nations impressively demonstrated that plastic is still an innovative, indispensable and future-oriented material. But they also unanimously confirmed the need for a functioning circular economy along the entire value chain and already presented concrete solutions. With that they got their finger on the pulse, because the 224,116 visitors from 168 countries showed great interest, in particular in recycling systems, sustainable raw materials and resource-saving processes. In addition, K 2019 was still characterized by a high level of willingness to invest. The intention among international trade visitors was to
“The K 2019 came at exactly the right time. The high level of interest from all over the world underpins their enormous importance for the industry. Nowhere else is it as international and united as it is every three years in Düsseldorf, ”states Werner Matthias Dornscheidt, CEO of Messe Düsseldorf, and explains:“ A platform like the K is essential, especially in times when there are great challenges . It provides orientation and perspectives, sets sustainable economic impulses, shows trendsetting and concrete solutions. The industry and its professional associations had the unique opportunity to present industry-related solutions and to discuss socio-politically relevant issues worldwide. And they made excellent use of this opportunity. “
Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Chairman of the K 2019 exhibitor advisory board, was extremely pleased with the course of K 2019: “The plastics and rubber industry was once again able to demonstrate that plastic is not only a very valuable material with excellent properties, but that the industry is also responsible along the entire value chain. The key words of K 2019 “Think. Rethink. Lateral thinking. Rethinking ”was reflected 1: 1 on the exhibitor stands. Never before has the industry unanimously taken up a topic and worked so closely on solutions as it does now on topics related to environmental compatibility, resource conservation and waste prevention. There is a real sense of optimism in the industry, the current dynamic is overwhelming. “
And also with regard to the specific demand at the trade fair stands, the positive mood of K 2019 continued: “It has been shown that the global need for innovative machines and raw materials is very high, despite current tensions in world trade or the situation of individual customer industries . This year’s K far exceeded our expectations and was able to provide important impulses for sustainable business and new business models, ”said Reifenhäuser.
The results of the visitor survey confirm the exhibitors’ assessment that the internationality of guests has increased again: it was 73.1 percent (70.8% in 2016). Over 42 percent of all foreign visitors came from overseas – including Angola, Burkina-Faso, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, the Cayman Islands, Madagascar, Myanmar, Mongolia, Mauritania, French Polynesia and Tajikistan to the Rhine. As expected, the proportion of experts from Asia made up the largest group of foreign visitors: around 40,000 experts traveled from South, East and Central Asia. Guests from India were once again the most represented, and the number of visitors from China and Japan increased significantly.
Almost 20,000 visitors traveled from North and South America to K 2019, which corresponds to an increase of 7 percent. The number of guests from Brazil in particular increased very significantly compared to 2016.
Among the guests from neighboring European countries, Italy dominated with over 10,000 visitors, followed by the Netherlands (around 9,000), Turkey (over 7,500), France (over 6,700), Belgium (over 6,300), Spain (over 5,100) and Russia (around 5,000).
The proportion of executives among trade visitors is at an extraordinarily high level across all national borders. Two thirds belong to top and middle management.
For visitors, the following four goals are currently in focus in their companies: expanding their product range, increasing economic efficiency, circular economy, ie sustainability of their products, and sustainability in production. Around 60 percent rate the current economic situation as “very good” and “good”, almost as many assume a similar situation in the next twelve months.
Mechanical and plant engineering, with 1,975 exhibitors the largest exhibition area at K 2019, was also the focus of visitor interest, two thirds of all experts surveyed named this area first. 52 percent stated that they were primarily interested in raw materials and auxiliary materials, for 28 percent semi-finished products and technical parts made of plastic and rubber were the main reason for their arrival (multiple answers possible).
The K was once again able to score as a premiere platform on which many future-oriented products and applications were presented to the world public for the first time. The innovations were not only admired, but also a lot of concrete negotiations and contracts were signed. “We were able to see an extremely high willingness to invest and this across all nations. The new customer business in particular was extremely pleasing this year. We are also very confident of a strong post-fair business, ”said Reifenhäuser.
Over half of the decision-makers from industry stated that they had come to Düsseldorf with specific investment projects. For guests from all over the world, the focus was on expansion investments, especially in extruder and extrusion systems, injection molding machines and machines and systems for processing and recycling. The visitor survey on K also showed that the interest in recycling plants is significantly higher internationally than in Germany.
The flexible materials – the rubbers and the thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) were also a fixture at K again. Although the elastomer sector is traditionally the smaller area compared to the plastics at K, many innovative elastomer-specific products and processing processes were presented by the exhibitors – be it that they offered raw materials, additives and compounds or showed special machines and equipment for processing and processing .
The visitors came from all major user sectors – from packaging, construction and vehicle construction through electrical and medical technology to agriculture. Overall, they once again awarded top marks for the offer in the 18 exhibition halls: 96 percent were impressed by the offer from K 2019, 95 percent insured that they had fully achieved their visit goals.
The extensive supporting program of the K 2019 with keynote speeches and top-class discussions, for example on renewable energies, material efficiency or zero waste production, was very popular with the international audience, especially the special show of the K 2019 “Plastics shape the future”. This year, the focus was on the innovative strength of the material and industry in terms of resource conservation, digitization, functionality, renewable energies, circular economy and sustainability. Critical issues such as plastic waste in the world’s oceans, the throw-away mentality surrounding plastic packaging and the use of finite resources for manufacturing were not left out. The highlight was, among other things, a humanoid robot that was built by young researchers from FabLab Lübeck eV during K 2019,
Both exhibitors and visitors to K 2019 were given a concentrated overview of scientific activities and results in the plastics and rubber sector on the Science Campus. Numerous universities, institutes and funding organizations offered the opportunity for direct dialogue.
The next K will take place in Düsseldorf from October 19 to 26, 2022.
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