Plastics industry prepares for the future

SKZ – The Plastics Center

Würzburg, July 1, 2024 – The SKZ Networking Week has long since established itself as a meeting place for the plastics industry. This year’s popular event once again attracted more than 600 visitors.

In many places, summer has been a long time coming this year. At the SKZ Plastics Center Network Week in Würzburg, however, he showed himself from his best side. The popular industry get-together, which is divided into the SKZ Innovation Day (June 25), the SKZ Network Day (June 26) and the SKZ Technology Day (June 27), took place in bright sunshine in the Model Factory, the Training Center Quality (TZQ) and various technical centers of the SKZ in Würzburg.

Live demonstrations on the machines
A varied program awaited the 600 or so visitors once again this year. While the Innovation Day was dedicated to the circular economy, the Network Day focused on artificial intelligence. Finally, the Technology Day was all about the various plastics processing methods. The participants were not only able to marvel at live demonstrations on the machines, but also had the opportunity to gain a comprehensive insight into the SKZ’s technical facilities. The days were rounded off by an accompanying trade exhibition and a joint barbecue.

AI – the game changer, also for the plastics industry?
Although the Network Day is always a joyful event for the industry, SKZ CEO Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Bastian also struck a reflective note in his welcoming speech at the Network Day. This is because plastics production in Germany fell by 22 percent last year alone. At the same time, however, the global demand for plastics is increasing – and is even expected to double by 2050. There are many reasons for the decline. Bastian cited the high production costs, global tensions, but also the federal government’s funding freeze for application-related research as causes. Bastian paid particular attention to a particularly pressing problem: the shortage of skilled workers across all sectors in Germany. Bastian addressed the question of the extent to which artificial intelligence could be a game changer, particularly for the plastics industry.

Integrating AI into modern material and process development
“Many people don’t even realize that AI is not a child of our time,” said Bastian. In fact, artificial intelligence has been the subject of scientific research for many decades. The current hype surrounding the topic of AI is instead due to the fact that general applications – such as ChatGPT, deepL or Midjourney – have increased significantly. However, these are not tailored to the specific challenges of the plastics industry. The latter, on the other hand, is confronted with a major problem: In contrast to general applications, the amount of data for company-specific applications in the industry is often sub-critical. After all, companies do not peddle their internal company data on the Internet. “That’s why our mission must be to bring AI solutions to industry through networking,” says Bastian. The integration of AI into modern material and process development is the prerequisite for the successful production of tomorrow. Currently, the unique selling point of the companies is still the process control through the know-how of the employees. How this will be in the future remains uncertain. “We have to get out of our comfort zone,” warned Bastian. Progress is rapid. “My appeal is therefore: let’s tackle this together – not only in research and development, but also in the training and further education of our specialists.” In the end, however, Bastian also found a few words of reassurance. The plastics industry does not have to be a pioneer in all facets of AI. However, it must be prepared to support the changes. The SKZ is happy to be a “strong partner”, Bastian concluded.

Henriette Quitter receives SKZ Young Talent Award
A highlight of the Networking Day every year is the presentation of the SKZ Young Talent Award. This year, Henriette Quitter was delighted to receive the 2000 euro prize. The jury of the SKZ Young Talent Award, consisting of the SKZ Advisory Board, the sponsor OPmobility and representatives of the SKZ, recognized the 27-year-old’s work entitled “Development of multi-pulse thermography for areal coating thickness measurement” as groundbreaking for the industry. Andreas Rößler, Customer Engineering Department Manager at OPmobility, said at the award ceremony that OPmobilty is pleased to be able to promote young talent from the younger generation. (Note: A detailed report on the SKZ Young Talent Award will follow shortly.)

Industry must “look to the future together

“Network Week is always a very special highlight for us, as it is something of a home game for us,” says Matthias Ruff, Head of Sales Education & Research and Interim Head of Network and Events at the SKZ.
“We are delighted to have this great opportunity to convince our numerous guests of our technology and the expertise of our employees. The intensive exchange of ideas and the convivial get-together outside of the specialist presentations are also very important to us. Because especially in times like these, it is particularly important that we stand together as an industry and look to the future together. I think we have once again succeeded in doing this excellently this year.”