Interview with Dr. Bernhard Dirr and Christian Pfeiffer
For months COVID-19 has restricted many areas of public life. In this interview, Dr. Bernhard Dirr, Director of the woodworking machinery division of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), and Christian Pfeiffer, Global Director LIGNA & Woodworking Shows for Deutsche Messe (Hannover, Germany), explain how the pandemic has impacted LIGNA.21. Here they outline the hygiene precautions and other measures that will be implemented and what to expect from the global industry’s flagship fair.8 Sep. 2020
Dr. Dirr, how has the crisis affected suppliers of woodworking and wood processing machinery and business prospects in the sector?
"The Corona pandemic has hit suppliers of machinery to the woodworking and processing industries in much the same way as it has affected many areas of mechanical and plant engineering. Many customers are very reluctant to invest. Machinery has either been idle or could not be operated, and in many regions it was not possible to visit plants and service machinery. But in addition to this, after three years of really good business we were already seeing a significant drop in orders towards the end of last year. So quite apart from the corona pandemic, the economy had already been slowing down, and the woodworking machinery sector has been harder hit than was the case across much of the mechanical engineering sector. However, the situation now seems to be easing, at least in Europe. It is in any case more predictable. In fact, sectors such as sawmill technology and timber house construction have got off rather lightly by comparison. Some of Germany’s furniture-makers have signalled that the worst is now behind them, and the industry is generally optimistic that the 2020 dip in sales can be limited to five percent. Manufacturers of machinery for furniture production are already speaking of a normalization of business, and things are also more promising in parts of the construction industry. But the area of most concern is the situation facing manufacturers of plant and machinery used to make wood-based panels. Here orders have slumped by more than half."
Christian Pfeiffer, despite all the uncertainties about the risk of infection and travel restrictions, do you expect that it will be “business as usual” at the trade fair?
"Despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic, the demand for space at LIGNA.21 continues to run high. The event will once again fill 10 halls as well as the open-air site, and all the major players have decided to exhibit. It seems that after many weeks of social distancing, lockdowns, online-only events and video conferencing from home, the industry is really looking forward to getting together for direct, person-to-person dialogue. Naturally, none of us can foresee when the pandemic will have largely run its course, or when an effective vaccine might become available. To that extent, we must be realistic. The global travel restrictions, alone, mean we can anticipate fewer attendees from abroad than at LIGNA 2019. It is likely that there will be outbreaks of infection for some time to come, so we need to find new ways of helping companies to get and stay in touch with the marketplace. Our plans therefore revolve around the situation as it is. Consequently, we have teamed up with the relevant authorities and developed a detailed hygiene and safety concept involving facemasks, distancing rules and hygiene precautions. We are doing our utmost to ensure the highest possible standards in hygiene, safety and medical care for all our exhibitors and visitors."
Dr. Dirr, the pandemic has reduced the resources available to many companies. To what extent might this impact their tradeshow activities?
"Of course, the pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty among exhibitors and poses many questions that we will all need to address in the months ahead. Some exhibitors will want to adapt their participation to these new conditions, while others may decide to stay away altogether. In our conversations with exhibitors we have found the majority are very clear about how important it is for them to return to normal and give their customers a clear sign that they are confident about prospects and committed to meeting up with them at the show so everyone can get back to business. We are pleased that – despite the crisis – so many companies have opted to take part in LIGNA and lay the groundwork for recovery all around. The time has come to surmount the challenges of the current situation, and LIGNA will prove instrumental to that. If the show manages to convey the vibrant spirit and diversity of our sector in a visual and tangible was, then we will be able to speak of a successful LIGNA 2021 no matter what the exhibitor and visitor statistics might say."
Christian Pfeiffer, every two years, LIGNA puts the focus on the future of our sector. Which topics and trends are likely to interest the visitors most this time?
"As the sector’s leading international trade fair LIGNA is not simply a global marketplace for tools, plant and machinery for the woodworking and wood processing industries – it is also an important platform for setting trends and highlighting developments across the sector. The transformation of woodworking, prefabrication techniques in timber construction and process technologies in the bio-economy will take center stage at the coming event next year. These three topics will be prominently featured at the exhibition, as well across various forums and special displays. Visitors will also be able to view many new developments and innovations, including a sophisticated machine park – a complex of systems, machines and tools operating live on site – which is unequalled worldwide. There will also be a supporting program with top professionals and experts outlining the key trends and developments in the sector. One highlight for primary industry is the Wood Industry Summit in Hall 26, which is devoted to innovative solutions in sawmill technology and the production of wood-based materials. The secondary industry is catered for at the LIGNA.Forum in Hall 11, where the focus will be on innovative processing technology and the networking and integration of various processing stages."
Dr. Dirr, some tradeshow organizers are offering virtual events. Do you think online formats can replace physical trade fairs?
"Well, the experience gathered with online trade fairs so far has been quite positive. Growing interest in online formats reflects how important these platforms are, especially in times of crisis. But companies have reported that these virtual events seem to be reaching target groups which are quite different from those they would normally expect to find at physical trade fairs. In other words, virtual events represent an additional channel which will continue to complement traditional trade fairs even after things return to normal. Nonetheless, direct business dialogue will remain of vital importance, and trade shows are an especially efficient way of facilitating this, even given the precautions made necessary by the pandemic."
Christian Pfeiffer, will a virtual option be available for visitors who cannot travel to Germany in May of 2021? Will LIGNA also be offered online in some form or other?
"We are currently working on a digital form of participation to supplement the traditional tradeshow format. In this way we hope to attract exhibitors and visitors from key markets who are unable to travel to Hannover. However it is our firm belief that the direct exchange between players in the sector is essential to doing business and concluding orders. LIGNA, in particular, offers a special visual and physical tradeshow experience, as well as many great opportunities for nurturing contacts and networking."
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