Story by Philip Ashley

What unsettled times we’ve lived through but it’s a long way from being over. What appeared to be an overnight lockdown and its consequences on our social lives and the economy was followed by the business world’s gradual reawakening and the prospects of a future with many variables. Being agile; or rather, staying agile, is the order of the day, as this is the only way to be prepared for the new normal, whatever that may be.

Supply industry at a glance

Italian suppliers of wood working machinery and wood-furniture technology (Source: ACIMALL) recorded a decrease of orders by 10% compared to the same quarter of 2019, in line with the trend of the entire machine tools industry. Orders on the domestic market decreased by 32%, as opposed to a better trend of international demand, which decreased by 1% only. This general trend is mitigated by the fact that orders increased by more than 40% compared to the terrible period of April-June 2020. 47% of the interviewed companies indicate a positive production trend, 18% decreasing and 35% stable.

In Australia, manufacturers have taken advantage of government incentives to purchase machinery and suppliers have reported a steady stream of containers coming into the country with much of the equipment sold before it hits the wharf. To support their customers through these difficult times, most of the major suppliers have presented online events that they say have proved successful and of course, their digital communication is maintained.

Trade Show Outlook

In 2021 a number of trade shows are still planned. The main events on the international stage are the interzum and Ligna shows, scheduled to normally run back to back early May next year. Ligna has announced it will run in September and it’s unclear whether or not Interzum will shift so visitors can still attend the two shows without making two international trips. Even with no or few COVID cases, if the shows go ahead, the first issue will be whether or not it will be feasible to visit from a country with no COVID and how difficult it will be to return. At the show, organisers promise stands designed for social distancing; wider aisles; safety rules and disinfection stations available for visitors. Organisers recommend the use of the German CORONA warning app but like Australia, this is voluntary.

However, there is an upbeat mood and strong interest as interzum exhibitors look forward to the forthcoming event with anticipation. There is a strong drive from companies that want to present their products, developments, and services as engines of innovation and trendsetters in a post-CORONA competitive environment that is still being shaped and that remains partly surrounded by uncertainty. The now clearly identifiable boost for global digitalisation resulting from the coronavirus lockdown calls for trade fair organisers to present intelligent answers to the question of how we are to face the emerging new reality.

The organizers of LIGNA have announced the focus topics for next year’s event. As the world’s leading trade show for woodworking and wood processing equipment, machinery and tools, LIGNA is looked to as a guide for the key issues that will shape the wood industry in the coming years. The next edition of LIGNA will put the spotlight on the digital transformation of the woodworking industry, and the bioeconomy.

The digital solutions on display will cover planning and design to production and quality monitoring. More manufacturers of machinery for processing solid and engineered wood are offering digital systems solutions. Industrial plant providers are increasingly opting for robotics systems for materials handling, human-machine interaction and surfacing functions. Key themes include cloud-based data management, standardization, interfaces, building information modelling, timber flow management and augmented and virtual reality applications.

Bioeconomy refers to the transition from a fossil fuel and mineral resources-based economy to a renewable resources-based economy. As one of the world’s most important renewable resources, wood has a central role to play in this process. By choosing Green Material Processing as a focus topic for LIGNA 2021, the organizers are highlighting the economic and technological innovations arising from the new processing and finishing options for timber as a key renewable resource.

Beyond 2021

The date for Xylexpo in Milan has been postponed to 2022 but no date has been set yet. It will probably be held in May, a few months before our own AWISA show in Sydney. These may be the first trade shows manufacturers can reasonably expect to visit. The Xylexpo exhibition team is already working to design an event that considers new ideas and recent changes to create a new and more modern ‘digital oriented’ showcase. Xylexpo has been declining in recent years but if Ligna does not go-ahead next year, Xylexpo could get a new lease of life in 2022.

In March 2020, the Australian Woodworking Industry Suppliers Association announced that the AWISA 2020 exhibition that was to take place in July 2020 was being postponed. Originally planned for early 2021, the difficulty was finding a vacant space of the size needed to hold such a large event. The AWISA board therefore decided to delay the next AWISA exhibition until the dates that were already booked for AWISA at ICC Sydney from 6-9 July 2022.

New Priorities

The lack of opportunities for business partners to meet in person in recent months means that face-to-face exchanges are now immensely important. Focused showcases of innovative product developments strengthen established global marketplaces, and recent trends are resulting in new priorities for industry exhibitions and changing traditional trade fair profiles. Even at this early stage, German and Italian trade shows are already registering excellent demand and large numbers of bookings ranging from familiar names from previous events to smart newcomers and start-ups right through to major industry players that have once again recognised the tremendous role that key business events play in or after
crisis situations. The question for
Australian visitors will be: will it be worth the trouble?