Field Notes: 2014 European Thermoforming Conference – Part 1

Over 200 delegates from 27 countries attended the 9th annual European Thermoforming Conference in the glorious Bohemian capital city that is Prague. The theme of the event was billed as “Forming a Sustainable Future” with major topical focus on innovation and competitiveness. Both heavy-gauge and thin-gauge sectors were well-represented in the technical program.


The keynote for the event was delivered by Christian Majgaard, a former top marketing manager at LEGO in Denmark. Mr. Majgaard’s speech was titled, “The Quest for Growth” and he enlightened the audience with insightful comments on brands, logos and the importance of communication during periods of change in business. Perhaps central to his talk was the notion that “the idea should be in the middle” of everything a business does. This is opposed to a company-centric view of the world, which can become problematic when the needs of the customer are ignored or forgotten. By keeping the innovation and business idea at the center of your marketing strategy, you will be more successful in the long term.

The Danes were well-represented at this year’s event, with additional talks on the future of plastics in design, advances in 3D printing and building a green company at Faerch Plast, one of the largest thermoforming companies in Europe. 

Perhaps one of the more interesting sessions was the thin-gauge panel discussion, featuring experts from 6 major OEMs: GN, Illig, Kiefel, OMV, TSL and Gabler. The conversation started with a comparison between major global markets, North America and Europe. As has been the case for some years, the difference in machine format (large vs. small) is driven by the needs of the respective markets. Even though “Europe” (as an economic entity) is larger than North America, there is still a great degree of segmentation across nation-states necessitating smaller runs and more frequent tool changeovers. 

The difference in platform size also raises interesting points about the economics of thermoforming. For example, faster running machines will generate more scrap which can increase the need for labor. In higher-wage countries in Western Europe, robotic stacking systems and inline grinding are more common than in Eastern Europe (or any developing economy). Larger-bed machines such as those built by TSL are frequently used with inline extrusion. The massive output from these systems can reach 8000lbs per hour (3600kg) with downstream trimming, rim-rolling and automated packaging.

Recent data shows that Turkey is now the 3rd largest converting market in Europe, behind only Germany and Italy. The panel suggested that increasing numbers of machinery builders and toolmakers from Turkey represent a price point that is in-between Europe and China/Taiwan. This does represent a new competitive threat to many OEMs, though the North American market has yet to be affected. TSL did announce a new strategic arrangement with a Turkish OEM, though no details were discussed. SEM Plastik, a converter from Turkey, presented some interesting data on plastics and thermoforming in their domestic market: 9% growth in the value of thermoformed goods was probably the most eye-catching stat of the afternoon.

We’ll be back with more thoughts and notes from the heavy gauge portion of the event next week. If you attended, get in touch to let us know what you liked or didn’t like.