Frankfurt/Main, 2 Ocotber 2014 - Mr. Dr Bernd-Holger Zippe is chairman of the Forum Glass Technology which is part of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA). Most manufacturers of glass machinery and plants, which are situated in Germany, are members of this association. Also, Zippe is the managing director of Zippe Industrieanlagen GmbH, a worldwide leading manufacturer of batch plants for the glass industry.
Mr. Zippe, your company is one of the exhibitors at glasstec. A commitment like this requires a lot of money. Is it worth, though? What will be the outcome of this engagement for you?
Taking part at glasstec for us is a must. glasstec is and will remain the world leading fair and, with it, the most important fair on glass and technology for the glass industry. Compared to other fairs, it is here that you find most visitors and can meet the most important contact people. glasstec provides a comprehensive overview of what is on offer worldwide – and this applies to each and every visitor and the overview is possible to gain in only a short period of time. It is like a reflection of the industry’s power of innovation. The fact that most German as well as foreign manufacturers show their top-innovations here, undermines its importance. The Forum Glass Technology and, with it, VDMA support this strongly. We helped to create the supporting programme which offers many highlights; we announce the fair, among other things, at press conferences at home and abroad and are always available where we are needed. Regarding commitment, for us taking part at glasstec is worth it on all accounts. We are happy that this fair exists.
There are more than 10 fairs for your industry worldwide. Do you feel that this is appropriate and do you have to be at each and every one?
No, in fact, there are too many local fairs also. Meanwhile, nearly every region of this world is ambitious to run its own fair on glass technology. There even are fairs that “go on tour” and are held at different places. It seems to be a worthwhile effort indeed. It is amazing how much money can be made. Then there are fairs that are interesting for, for instance, manufacturers of glass treatment technology but companies that are in the melting of glass do not find it relevant for them. So, it depends on the products that each company produces. This also determines which fair to take part in.
German manufacturers of glass machinery are in a good position, compared to other companies globally. In many areas, they are even the world leaders. Will the industry be able to keep this position mid-term?
There will be restrictions, I guess. There is an astonishingly high amount of innovations available and there are companies with great innovations on offer. Most of them are very well-positioned. Of course, in a situation like this, you should not lean back and wait. The Italians, for instance, have been and will remain our competitors. There are some very innovative, flexible and creative companies there. The main competitor in future, however, will be China. Chinese companies are growing quickly as they have an enormous home market. Whenever they go abroad, they follow the very same procedures. At first, they see to the surrounding markets – which are, in general, less developed. Once they are settled there and have become accustomed to the industry in that region, they expand into countries like Belgium, Spain and/or Germany. They come into the local industry through the back door, so to speak. You must not underestimate the potential of the Chinese.
How strong is the pressure coming from China and what do the German manufacturers do to compete?
There certainly is a pressure coming from China. Some customers still simply expect China to be cheaper. I deliberately say “cheaper”, not “worth the money”, as the quality there is still not the same as in Germany. But even so, there is a certain competitive pressure. It is in particular the emerging countries that will have to deal with their Chinese competitors. Very clearly you can see this already in Indonesia where a big part of the suppliers for the glass industry already come from China and not exclusively from Europe or the US anymore. In Indonesia, the Chinese are well established by now. What do the German manufacturers do to compete? The answer is relatively easy: they go to China themselves. One of our competitors has only just invested in a Chinese competitor. My company, too, has opened a subsidiary in China only recently in order to be better positioned there and to be able to sell our products in China. The pressure deriving from China can be felt in many areas already. However, with regard to high-tech plants and within Europe you can still not feel it too much. But we will have to be prepared that this will soon be changing.
Where do you see emerging markets? Which countries or regions are of particular interest to the German manufacturers?
This question is difficult to answer on a global perspective. The markets vary a lot. At the moment, we are very happy to see that the demand in the Gulf area is picking up again. Africa and all the countries in Central Africa, in particular, will surely be of interest mid-term. Investors are continuously focusing more on this continent. From this area we can, without any doubt, expect quite a lot in the future. North America is an important market for many of our member companies. Also Central Asia has a certain potential of development.
How can politics support companies in your industry? What is missing and what would the industry like to see?
Politics should help to get more young people inspired to choose a technical job. Germany’s wealth is based, in particular, on being leaders in various technological fields. If Germany wants to stay in this position, education and formation have to be kept on the high level it has achieved so far. And this applies to the content as well as the financial side of things. Technology and natural sciences have to become and stay a main ingredient of our education system. Only when we achieve this, Germany will be able to keep its strong position as an industrial location. VDMA and its member companies are very active in this regard. Some companies are, for instance, working very closely with kinder-gardens, schools and universities to inspire more people to go for technical professions.
We also need support by the politics for establishing new business concepts. The German industry is very well situated and globally leading when it comes to traditional areas. We are, for instance, the number one worldwide with regard to mechanics and electronics. But networking is increasing rapidly. In order to compete with this development, we need new business models. Trying to implement these often goes far beyond the possibilities of an individual, especially middle-sized, company. This is why we need cooperation between companies. And politics can help us in this respect. My own company, for instance, entered into cooperating with two companies already. On the one hand, we cooperate with a manufacturer of melting ends – that provides moulding machinery for hollow glass, and on the other hand, with a company which produces all the relevant machinery needed for the cold end. With this, we are able to offer a complete glass factory - as no other company in the world is able to do. Cooperating is our future.
It is also very important to protect our data. In this regard we would very much appreciate if politics did everything they can to help protect us from industrial spying. No middle-sized company stands a chance against a professional hacker. We need every support possible here by the government.