Johan Elster of Bystronic Group discussed the impact of COVID-19 in the overall metalworking industry, what manufacturers learned amid this pandemic, and whether the industry is already seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Bystronic is one of the leading providers of sheet metal processing technologies, focusing on the automation of the complete material and data flow of the cutting and bending process chain. Its portfolio includes laser cutting systems, press brakes, and associated automation and software solutions.
In an interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News, Johan Elster, President Business Unit Markets, Bystronic Group discussed the impact of COVID-19 in the overall metalworking industry, what manufacturers learned amid this pandemic, and whether the industry is already seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
OVER THE PAST YEAR, HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC IMPACTED THE OVERALL METALWORKING INDUSTRY?
JOHAN ELSTER (JE): The impact was certainly there, but we were not hit as hard as, for example, the tourism, the airline business, or restaurants. It affected us about as much as it affected many other industrial businesses. A big problem was that a lot of materials produced in China no longer arrived worldwide, so the supply chain was interrupted. This also affected our customers who, therefore, had to stop their production. They were forced to look for local suppliers at short notice. In the meantime, this has calmed down in recent months because China is able produce again.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD MANUFACTURERS HAVE IMPLEMENTED BY NOW AS THEY RESUME PRODUCTION?
JE: Everyone should generally have a plan B. For instance, everyone should have a dual-supplier concept so that it can be switched to local suppliers if necessary. On the other hand, digitization has generally begun. Maybe, the world should have pushed ahead with it a bit earlier, because the technology was already available.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY TRANSFORMING AMID THIS GLOBAL ISSUE?
JE: Man gets used to many things and always learns to live with them. Of course, something has changed in general, but it was especially severe in the industry. We are currently experiencing the effects that we saw already before the lockdowns: smaller and smaller batch sizes, automation, increasing digitalization—also for our customers, low-cost products from China… These are the trends we are currently seeing.
WHAT OTHER ISSUES HAVE YOU SEEN IMPACTING THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY, PARTICULARLY IN ASEAN? IS THE US-CHINA TRADE WAR STILL RELEVANT?
JE: The China-U.S. trade war is not necessarily relevant in the rest of Asia. After the boom in 2018, the global economy has been in a steady decline—and that has nothing to do with this trade war. The recession would have happened anyway. China recovered relatively fast after the pandemic. Today, the industry there is practically at the same level as before, but the punitive tariffs of the U.S. are still effective. This has a significant impact on the country, but not on ASEAN countries.
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE STATE OF THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY IN SOME OF YOUR MARKETS IN ASEAN AMID THIS PANDEMIC.
JE: In Malaysia, for example, we see a trend towards automation. This was not the case two or three years ago. In Indonesia or Thailand, however, this is not the case yet. But in the ASEAN region, too, Chinese manufacturers with their lower-priced products are increasingly coming into play. There are many small companies in the ASEAN region that have the opportunity to invest now in such low-cost machines, which was not the case before. The initial investment is often a big obstacle for young and small companies, so this obstacle is naturally decreasing now.
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