Which factors have led to Germany becoming Europe’s most important and largest location for the plastics industry?
In Germany, we have a very good basis for plastics production and processing. In Central Europe / Germany, unlike in other regions of the world, the raw material base is sustainably guaranteed through a well-developed pipeline network to the production sites and there is a secure, stable supply of energy for the production process of the plastics. The entire value chain, where companies can “dock” in at any point, is also very important for an efficient production chain.
If I look at the foreign investments that come to Europe in the plastics sector, Germany is the best location where companies can invest and serve all of their customers locally.
The large German and foreign, internationally-operating chemical companies all have their plastic manufacturing facilities here and have very high competence which they have developed over 60 years. In the last 20 years, they have expanded and continued to invest in the world’s most modern facilities.
The companies that GTAI usually supports with investment projects are the converters and the plastics machinery manufacturers. The European market, and within this, the German market in particular, is very well-positioned and has established customer chains in the automotive, consumer goods and electronics industries. In lightweight construction also, plastics and composite materials play an important role today. With the research on new materials and the wider dissemination of applications of plastics, a very strong qualitative growth is expected for the next 20 years by various forecasting institutes as well as by associations and the companies themselves. The fiber composites used in the wind energy, automotive and aerospace industries as well as in the construction industry – a large growth market – play an important role.
The injection molding process, for example, has been used since the 1950s. Thanks to excellent engineers and plastics machinery manufacturers, has since been continuously developed into one of the most modern production processes in plastics processing, and is used increasingly in Industrie 4.0 application solutions. Germany is also a pioneer in terms of new production processes in plastics processing. This opens up great opportunities for further applications for plastics. For example, Germany is a leader in the development and application of additive manufacturing processes (3D printing) alongside the USA.
What role do clusters play?
There are a number of very well established clusters in Germany: regional concentrations of SMEs, large companies in plastics production and processing (mainly at chemical sites), as well as the processing industry and customer industries to research institutions and specialized and regional plastic networks.
Networks are particularly important for SMEs because they can exchange ideas with partners in the value chain, in particular with large companies, and dock with the value chain or even participate in procurements. Networks between SMEs, as well as between SMEs and large enterprises, often aim at the development of new production processes and / or new products and their applications. In particular, these platforms also offer small and medium-sized enterprises access to research infrastructures, for example from private or Fraunhofer institutes as well as university research institutions. Another advantage of regional networks is that you can also integrate professionals from colleges and universities at an early stage in the company. Last but not least, skilled workers are also trained and educated through such regional networks, and so-called pools of skilled workers are established. It is also very important for foreign companies that they find experienced employees, because they usually only bring 1-2 employees but otherwise the company is set up with local specialists.
In cooperation with the chemical parks / chemical sites, SMEs can find very good framework conditions and infrastructure for their settlement project. Plastic processors need also a specific chemical infrastructure and good access to raw materials / intermediates, which they do not just find in a business park far away, somewhere in the “green field”.
Against the background of further internationalization, I also consider clusters important: network structures can offer the SME’s, in particular, regionally oriented support for their ability to internationalize.
Finally, the aspect of location marketing: Clusters, with their special strengths and their innovative companies, as well as high-quality research infrastructure, can also be marketed far better internationally.