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The show that was

I went to the K show in Germany with mixed-to-low expectations. I left with a great deal of cautious optimism. But why? The hard evidence is not overwhelming. Attendance was good but not record-setting, and there were no breakthrough technologies. Still, I couldn''t help feeling that the plastics industry had turned a corner.

Maybe it was the stark contrast with three years ago. K 2001 fell on the heels of 9/11, depressing spirits and attendance, particularly from the U.S. Americans have been a traditionally large and important part of K, just as the American market is large and important to the industry. But even this year the number of Americans was not great-not as great as in 1995 or 1998.

Maybe it was the expanded fairgrounds. Messe Dusseldorf added a new hall since 2001, bring the total on the K "campus" to 17 halls. The show is physically bigger than ever. Or maybe it was the weather? K is notoriously cold and rainy in October, but we were rewarded this year with uncommonly sunny skies and little moisture.

No, I think it comes down to just a couple things, and if you couldn''t be in Dusseldorf for this year''s event, here''s what I came away with.

Happy exhibitors. The truest gauge of any tradeshow is the reaction of exhibitors to attendees, and it was clear by the end of the first day at K that this year''s show was shaping up to be a good one. The ice-breaker question in every stand is, "How''s the show?" and I can''t recall a single disparaging comment in my eight days on the show floor. I heard things like, "We''ve had more leads today than we had in the first four days at the last K," and "We''re swamped and I can''t believe how eager these people are." The show was crowded, with about 230,000 showing up during the eight-day event.

I also heard from several exhibitors that Asian attendance seemed high. Indeed, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese attendees seemed prolific. In fact, Messe Dusseldorf says there were 23,000 attendees from Asia (18,000 in 2001). India alone sent 7300 people to the show.

Other exhibitors told me about attendees who showed up at K with drawings and plans in one hand and a checkbook in the other, ready to buy machinery to meet specific application needs. And although machinery makers always claim to make machinery sales at shows, most are deals brokered well in advance and either announced or signed at the show. This year several exhibitors noted large numbers of bona fide ad hoc machine sales right from the show. Kiefel, for instance, sold a nine-layer blown film tower off the floor-an almost unheard-of deal.

Applications are king. It''s fair to say that gone are the days of machinery makers throwing injection molding machines, extruders, and blowmolding machines out into the market, hoping that something sticks. It''s clear that almost all of the machinery suppliers are integrating themselves into the supply chain, working with processors, OEMs, and other suppliers to develop equipment that meets a specific application need. A number of demonstrations at K showed machinery that had been customized to help produce a specific product for a specific market. For instance, Engel and Battenfeld each molded auto glazing; Husky made door panels.

And the shear quantity of specialty applications was unparalleled. It was extremely rare that you saw a general-purpose machine producing a general-purpose product. In Arburg''s stand you could find everything from LSR to multimaterial molding; Milacron introduced a double spinning cube mold-machine combination; Netstal debuted its new all-electric and announced a 192-cavity PET preform system; Demag showed off inmold labeling; Nissei overmolded aluminum components.

It was a great show with a lot of energy and excitement, words we haven''t used too much in the plastics industry in the last few years. You''ll get a full-blown report on all of the new injection, extrusion, blowmolding, thermoforming, and auxiliary technologies in the January issue.

Jeff Sloan, Editor-in-Chief

[email protected]

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