"In some applications, growth can be expected despite corona"
The composites market is developing dynamically and the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic are very different - this is how Dr. Elmar Witten, Managing Director of AVK - Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe e.V., sums up the current market situation. In the interview, he also reports on the opportunities he sees in the construction sector and why the bicycle helps to anchor composites in everyday life.
Dr. Witten, the AVK Market Report is a recognized barometer of the industry, which you will present again this year at Composites for Europe. How do you assess the current market situation of the composites industry and can you give us some figures?
Dr. Elmar Witten: The market for composites has been developing relatively dynamically for many years. All in all, no growth is expected for the total market for all GRP materials this year, due to the severe slump in individual segments caused by the corona crisis. However, individual areas in particular, such as applications with carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) or thermoplastic materials, are developing with far above-average growth rates of more than 10% in some cases. In the area of glass fibre reinforced plastics (GRP), last year, for the first time in many years, we experienced a sideways movement rather than growth. However, the diversity of materials must not be overlooked here. There are also areas in the GRP area, which is by far the largest segment in the composites sector with a market share of over 95%, some of which are showing strong growth rates. In addition, the individual countries in Europe are developing very differently, depending on their different applications with composites materials.
Which areas are particularly hard hit by the COVID 19 pandemic and how long do you think it will take for the industry to recover?
At present, both industry and the economy and society as a whole are strongly affected by the corona pandemic. The actual effects are very different. While individual sectors and companies are less affected by corresponding declines, there are other sectors that are experiencing heavy losses. Here, the entire transport sector should be mentioned in particular. The construction sector, as the largest GRP application area, currently seems to be less affected. As was the case during the years of the economic and financial crisis, it will probably take some time before the current declines are fully recovered. In individual applications, however, growth can certainly be expected due to the very strong country-specific differences. In recent years, a strongly divergent development has already been noticeable. Germany, for example, has emerged from the last crisis much stronger, so that the German market has been able to develop into the largest regional market in Europe. In other regions, developments have been less dynamic or even declining. Overall, however, the outlook for the future is positive. The opportunities and potentials that are available are far from exhausted. For this reason, very dynamic developments in individual segments can also be expected in the future. Here, all market players are called upon to carry the advantages of the material systems further into potential fields of application and to remove obstacles, such as the lack of standards and approvals. In this way, together we can succeed in expanding the market as a whole.
Regardless of the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic, where do you see the greatest challenges for the industry and where do you see the greatest opportunities?
Great opportunities are currently seen above all in the construction sector. In individual applications, composites offer enormous advantages over established materials such as steel or concrete. In many cases, the lack of approvals still stands in the way of their use. However, new applications are also constantly emerging in established fields of application such as aviation, the passenger car and commercial vehicle industry or electronics. Whereas in the past the focus was often on pure lightweight construction, today numerous other aspects are added, such as the environmental balance, design possibilities, the cost-benefit ratio and the most efficient production processes possible. Composites offer many options here. Work on individual aspects, for example in the areas of recycling and reuse, is currently being carried out at full speed. In addition, users and processors often still have to be convinced of the advantages and versatility of composites. The materials are often still too little known.
Current developments show, for example, changes in mobility needs. How is the composites industry participating in the current bicycle boom?
Composites always benefit when outstanding performance with optimised weight and the most load-compatible design possible is required. Especially in the area of bicycles there are enormous possibilities for weight reduction, making composites the optimal material for this purpose. These materials have already been used in road cycling for many years, which means that more and more users are coming into contact with composites. Composites are becoming more and more part of our everyday life through the bicycle.
AVK is an active partner of Composites for Europe in the organisation of the forums. What are your main topics in the programme?
The focal themes of the forums are based on the main themes of the trade fair and thus offer a supplement to the exhibits on display: experts report on innovations in the fields of transport, construction & infrastructure, leisure & sport and circular economy. In addition, current data on market development will be shown on the first day of the fair, and on the third day young scientists will report on the latest scientific findings in composites research in a poster session and in lectures.
The renowned AVK Innovation Award will be presented again this year at Composites for Europe. What is the current status here?
As in previous years, the AVK Innovation Prize will be awarded to the three best submissions in the categories Innovative Products and Components or Applications, Innovative Processes or Procedures and Research and Science. In all categories, special emphasis is placed on the topic of "sustainability" and it is particularly important to us to make the performance of the entire industry public. This year again, there were several dozen submissions of outstanding quality, from which an independent jury will now select the winners in a multi-stage process. These will then be presented for the first time at Composites for Europe.