Most observers see China as ready for a rapid recovery. Some are even saying that “recovery” isn’t the right word because the recession that hit so much of the world so hard missed Asia for the most part. According to packwebasia.com, Asian packaging markets are “booming once again, reaching pre-crisis growth rates of 8 to 13% throughout the region.”
Stuart Hoggard, the publisher of packwebasia.com, wonders why U.S. manufacturers of packaging equipment have historically been so slow to establish a presence in Asia. “The Germans, the Swiss, the Italians, and even the Spanish machine manufacturers have been all over Asia like a rash,” Hoggard tells me in a recent email exchange. “But the U.S. presence has been very low key. Is this a cultural isolationist thing, or does the prospect of having to set up an infrastructure seem too daunting, or is it that there is a fear of having their IP copied?”
Chinese manufacturers of packaging machinery, on the other hand, have become anything but low key when it comes to establishing a presence at packaging shows outside their national borders. After attending a number of packaging shows in different parts of the world—from Fispal in Brazil to Koreapack in Seoul to a small regional show in Indonesia—Hoggard has noticed that Chinese exhibitors have been front and center. And their presence, he notes, has been characterized by a slick professionalism that was conspicuously absent from China’s showing just a few years ago at interpack 08.
Hoggard’s observations about the presence of the Chinese at recent trade shows around the world prompted me to ask my friends at Messe Düsseldorf, sponsors of interpack, for the number of Chinese exhibitors we can expect to see when interpack 2011 opens May 12 in Düsseldorf. Here’s what I learned:
• interpack 2005 drew 22 Chinese exhibitors occupying 5,296 sq ft
• interpack 2008 drew 97 Chinese exhibitors occupying 16,609 sq ft
• interpack 2011, as of January 31, has 140 Chinese exhibitors occupying 27,986 sq ft
Another perspective on China and its ability to make and market packaging machinery comes from IMS Research, a consultancy based in the UK with offices in, among other places, China. Due to what it calls “huge internal demand and investment,” IMS Research expects to see a rapid increase in Chinese machinery production in three industry sectors: medium- and small-scale agricultural machines, material-handling machinery with a high performance-price ratio, and low-end food and beverage machinery. According to IMS Research, “With the increasing numbers of the middle class and the wealthy in China, IMS Research notes the demand not only for basic machinery with a high performance-price ratio but also for advanced processing and packaging machinery.”
IMS Research’s Wilmer Zhou, market analyst in the Industrial Automation sector, admits that China’s ability to produce advanced packaging machinery is still down the road a bit. But manufacturing of packaging machinery that is not in the advanced category, says Zhou, is expected to show a compound annual growth rate of 22% for 2009-2014. It’s worth noting that IMS Research pegs the CAGR of Chinese machinery production overall for the same five-year period at 17%.
Sooner or later, Chinese packaging machinery manufacturers will spend less time copying the designs of western OEMs and will engage in the kind of R&D that will permit them to make advanced packaging equipment of their own. In the meantime, U.S. OEMs already capable of making advanced packaging equipment would do well to explore sales opportunities in China. If that’s where packaging markets are “booming,” as Hoggard puts it, then maybe that’s where U.S. packaging machinery manufacturers need to have a more noticeable presence.