Eighteen months ago, machine builders and plastics industry suppliers faced the stark reality that international travel for business still wasn't safe because of the COVID-19 virus.
The respiratory illness was surging in many countries. Lockdowns were in effect. Hospitals were at capacity. The death toll continued to rise.
By October 2020, the 27th Fakuma trade show scheduled for Friedrichshafen, Germany, was canceled.
Some plastics companies turned quickly to virtual machine demonstrations to showcase their latest innovations. Others held out hope that NPE2021 in Orlando, Fla., would be the chance to return to some in-person business as usual.
However, amid a continuing surge in COVID-19 cases, the plug was pulled on NPE2021, too, with the next one not set until 2024.
Finally, a couple months later, approved vaccines were getting distributed and put into arms. Since then smaller regional trade fairs have been held safely and successfully. Employees of injection molding machine manufacturer Arburg GmbH attended some near their company's facilities in China, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. They had mostly a local audience.
Now the world stage is reopening for the plastics industry in the picturesque part of Germany along Lake Constance near Austria and Switzerland.
Julianne Hehl, a managing director at Lossburg, Germany-based Arburg, is hopeful about all the precautions being taken for an event in which the company has a close history. Arburg was one of the first exhibitors and somewhat of co-founder.
Early Fakuma organizer Paul E. Schall first presented his idea to her father, Managing Partner Eugen Hehl, and sold him on the trade fair concept and Friedrichshafen as a perfect location.
This year, about 300 Arburg employees and affiliates are attending Fakuma and some 200 will be at the company stand every day. That's similar to past years, Hehl said.
Of course, many things won't be similar, like the need for Arburg to apply a "2G" rule, meaning its employees are either vaccinated against or have recovered from COVID-19.
Plastics News posed a wide range of questions to Hehl, who says, "We are very happy to finally be back at a trade fair after what feels like an eternity. Nothing beats personal contacts and innovations you can touch!"
Q: How will Arburg's booth and trade show presence compare to past Fakumas or other major trade shows? The company is bringing nine machines. Is that typical for Arburg at Fakuma, or is Arburg really going all out for this as the first major international plastics industry event in Germany for 2021?
Hehl: Fakuma traditionally has been very close to Arburg's heart, as we are co-founders and have been exhibitors from the very beginning. This year, we have even expanded our booth a bit, underscoring the importance of this international trade fair on Lake Constance, at least for the European plastics industry. The number of machines we exhibit at our booth is within the usual range, although, of course, this always depends on the size of the individual machines.
Q: Does Arburg have many booth meetings set up compared to past years? Or, does your schedule indicate attendance will be down?
Hehl: It is difficult to answer this question in advance, as many visitors drop by our booth, even without an appointment, to find out about new products and innovative applications, meet their contacts in person, and also discuss new projects. Our top priority is to be able to provide intensive support and advice to customers and other interested parties. We are very well prepared for this and, therefore, we have not cut back on personnel in 2021. As usual, many employees from our international subsidiaries will also be represented at Fakuma.
Q: Has Arburg participated in many trade shows this year? Do you have any advice for Fakuma visitors meeting people in person for the first time?
Hehl: Arburg has already participated in several trade fairs this year, including Chinaplas, rapid+TCT, Equiplas and Interplas. However, these were staffed by the Arburg teams from the region and the visitors also came almost exclusively from those respective countries. We expect Fakuma will be the first trade fair for us this year that has an international character.
For visitors, it is always a good idea to make appointments with their respective Arburg contact person in order to use their valuable time at the trade fair as efficiently as possible. The compact layout at the Friedrichshafen exhibition center is an advantage here.