Experts cover future workforce, disruption, business intelligence and conservation
The European Adhesive Tape Association's premier yearly event took place last week at the Pestana Palace Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal, boasting the highest attendance rate ever, 10 intriguing future-focussed presentations, numerous networking opportunities and a beautiful location in one of Europe's accessible and inspiring metropolises.
Focussing on "Making the Tape Business Future-Proof", including its effect on the workforce, business models, supply chains, sales channels, technology, product development and the application process, the Conference provided over 150 tape industry professionals with the opportunity to interact with tape industry leaders, sales and technology drivers and field-expert speakers. Attendees came from 15 European countries plus India, Turkey and the U.S. and included delegates from businesses along the entire adhesive tape value chain: tape manufacturers, suppliers (raw materials, machine and packaging), converters, distributors, research institutions, national tape organisations and other international counterparts.
"I keep saying it every year, but it is true: This is one of the best Annual Conferences Afera has ever put on!" reported Evert Smit, Afera president and head of R&D at Lohmann GmbH & Co. KG. "Firstly, the event showed that there are a lot of topics and issues moving in the adhesive tape industry, and we were able to harness them for this event. And as Afera does, we will continue to build on them. Secondly, the human factor was secured, because we are a family—this group behaves like a family."
"Year over year, the Annual Conference increases in quality and value to our Members," explained Jacques Geijsen, Afera Marketing Committee chairman and managing director at American Biltrite, Inc. EMEA and ABItalia. "It is the perfect platform from which 'competitive colleagues' can form their opinions, and our participant survey feedback enables us to continue fine-tuning the event."
It's about more than just business intelligence
A plethora of buzz topics headed the Conference working programme, which took place over 2 days. Bert van Loon, marketing innovation expert and independent strategist, was one of the masters of ceremonies. "We started and ended on topics involving Millennials, going full circle with both positive and negative outlooks," Mr. Van Loon shared. "But what we all have in common is the future: the opportunities and also many considerations of human nature, ethics and technology. Afera delivered the whole package."
"I saw many new faces—young faces in the audience," Mr. Smit commented. This was fitting as "future workforce" is one of Afera's newest foci. According to our recent survey, 65% of Afera Members say that talent retention is a serious challenge in their businesses.
The European tape industry is specific in its field parameters, characteristically low in unemployment and fluctuation, and high in competition. Because experts are hard to find and European geographics can prove difficult, working in the tape value chain needs to be made attractive to various target groups. To this end, Deloitte Consultant Christiane Schober discussed the annual Deloitte Global Millennial Survey and what businesses should do to capture the hearts and minds of the younger generations.
"We are currently 5 generations of workforce working together, a dynamic that business hasn't dealt with before now," said Mr. Smit. "The challenge for our companies is finding the right personnel, because not doing this is going to limit our growth."
According to TU Wien Professor Dr.-Ing. Sebastian Schlund, implementation is still at the micro level, and experts predict that 60-70% of human jobs will be taken over by robot systems in the next 25 years. In the short- and medium-term, assistance systems will shape future workplaces; however, "workplaces and skill sets will change," Mr. Smit emphasised. "Nobody can predict when disruption happens."
Many are in search of hard data and facts, so they can run figures and arrive at conclusions like accountants. CREAX's presentation on using AI data research demonstrated to Afera Members that what counts is what is being spoken about by scientists, consumers and corporates. What are your customers speaking about? Global auto-topicing "adhesive tape" can lead to interesting soft data gained from papers, blog comments and patent families—things you may know, but things you may not know about discussions and trends.
Nature inspiring us to develop and conserve
Geckos, velvet and sandcastle worms, fly larvae and muscles are amazingly stirring research in marine environments and also in the field of medical tape applications. Professor Dr. Marleen Kamperman explains a bioinspired polymer-based adhesive system that is easily applied due to low viscosity, easily manipulated because of immiscibility with water, effective in the presence of water, strongly adherent to diverse surfaces, fine-tunable in its cohesive properties, and limited in swelling in situ.
In his presentation "Life, the universe and everything", Ian Grace, Afera Technical Committee vice-chairman and business development manager at Loparex B.V., challenged all of us to take stock of the toll of our outlook and our daily habits on the environment. Deforestation and degradation and animal extinction rates are haunting. Current data on the presence of CO² in our atmosphere can be misleading, even higher than the 300-400 ppm Mr. Grace estimated. If we must change the way we're living, is this also a wakeup call for our industry?
"The futuristic programme on Day 1 got me thinking," commented Christian Gromes, head of sales and business development of the thermal management division at CMC Klebetechnik GmbH. "To be successful in the future, is your business willing to do a little more to make things happen, or do you want to stay comfortable in your current way of doing things?"
Market trends and data
There is a lot of intelligence on the markets and how customers and regions are behaving. Collecting and analysing this optimally may require computing beyond human capacity. Matthias von Schwerdtner, Afera Marketing Committee Member and corporate vice president of development at tesa SE, gave us the big picture: The adhesive tape industry globally remains a highly fragmented and heterogeneous market, and growth over the next few years is predicted at between 2 and 5%. Specialty adhesive tapes market growth is linked to expanding electronics and healthcare industries.
Master of ceremonies Melanie Ott, Afera Steering Committee Member and business manager of tapes and labels at H.B. Fuller, agrees with Mr. von Schwerdtner that global growth rates for tapes are moving faster than the economy. For the tape business, there is a slightly reduced volume of adhesive raw materials.
What is key: We are very irrelevant to crude oil output, as only a small portion of this goes into adhesive raw materials. But the tapes business needs this feedstock, such as solvents, acrylic monomers and synthetic rubbers, to make adhesives. Over the last few years, there has been a shift in cracker output from heavy to lightweight materials. Although oil prices should stay stable over the next few months, the world economy is slowing and demand is down. What would happen to our industry if the feedstock became unavailable?
Among other current tech trends, Mr. Smit discussed regulatory legislation in Europe, North America and China, including the increasing importance of the E.U. Circular Economy Action Plan and individual company sustainability programmes and products. And, he warned, "Polymer REACH" is coming, so he encouraged all Afera Members to start talking with each other about this.
"Regulatory issues are a power around us," he said. "There's nothing we can do about it, except to pre-empt it by starting to act on them now, like a predictive maintenance for our own industry." Why adhesive-tape-related companies were successful over the last 3 or 4 decades is not necessarily the reason they will be thriving 5 years from now.
"Making sure our business is future-proof is not a simple concept," explained Mr. Smit. "You cannot assume tapes will always be used for bonding. Many great technologies have disappeared very quickly." We must strive to predict the future accurately to ensure that we in the tapes business are part of it.
Building & construction segment
In 2016, Afera's North American counterpart, the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council (PSTC), surveyed the design/architect community about opportunities to replace liquid adhesives with tapes. The report revealed that within the building & construction industry, there are low levels of familiarity (27%) about the benefits of using tape as opposed to using the more traditional methods of bonding found in that industry.
Graeme Roan, PSTC Marketing Committee chairman and product manager of global adhesives at Synthomer, outlined the high growth potential for PSA tape use within the B&C segment. This finding led to the PSTC launching a second phase of their research study in 2017, beginning with a survey focused on specific B&C applications for which PSA tape can be used, as well as those factors that may influence choosing tape for various bonding projects. At the PSTC's latest Tape Summit, they launched the themed industrial seminar Building & Construction Industry: Markets and Application Track.
"Go specialty!" Mr. Smit echoed. "In addition to electronics and healthcare, focus on B&C." You don't need to produce "the big tape to wrap a house", but niches such as "smart homes" are sure to take off.
Big data and AI
AllyMatch GmbH's Isinay Kemmler says that collecting, processing, analysing and managing big data has its challenges in terms of quality, but this can be managed. She has a positive outlook about automation and AI. "It doesn't mean that human skills will be lost because machines are doing all the work for us," she said. "Our brains will be trained in a different way; other human skills will be needed."
"On the subject of big data, I get the feeling we are just scratching the surface," reacted Mr. Smit. "Looking around the Conference room, many of us won't admit it—and even in light of competition law, we are allowed to—but I know that many companies here are performing predictive maintenance."