This year, the APPMA is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and according to chairman, Mark Dingley, now is the time for all manufacturers to prepare for what lies ahead. Danielle Bowling reports.
Let's be honest. Manufacturers – regardless of which industry segment they belong to – are facing tough times. The high Australian dollar, competition from cheap imports brought in from international markets and growing pressure from the supermarket duopoly are all making business a very hard slog for our homegrown brands.
But that doesn't mean the future is bleak. According to chairman of the Australian Packaging & Processing Machinery Association (APPMA), Mark Dingley, these tough times mean manufacturers – and therefore suppliers to the industry, including APPMA members – need to get on the front-foot and adapt their business models accordingly.
AUSPACK PLUS, which is owned by the APPMA, is Australia's largest packaging and processing machinery, materials and technology exhibition and is the perfect opportunity for manufacturers to not only network with both Australian and international industry members, but see the latest and greatest in technological advancements in packaging and processing machinery from around the world on display, all under one roof.
The biennial event will this month be held at the Sydney Showground, boasting more than 1,200 brands and 302 exhibitors, of which 72 are international exhibitors, all across more than 7,000 square metres of floor space.
It's a record year for the event, which first kicked off in 1985, with the largest ever number of exhibitors taking the floor over the four days from 7 to 10 May, 2013.
Exhibitors this year spruiking their wares and sharing their expertise include packaging and processing machinery companies, plastics manufacturers, processing equipment suppliers and leading labelling and coding agencies from across Australasia.
AUSPACK PLUS 2007
Now and then
As well as helping manufacturers from across the globe to connect and learn from each others' experiences, this year's AUSPACK PLUS is being held in the same year that the APPMA is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
"The APPMA formed 30 years ago. The main focus was to provide Australian manufacturers with an Association of members that upheld ethical and quality standards from a packaging machinery point of view," Mark Dingley, APPMA chairman told Food magazine.
"The main focus of the Association back then, and still the case today, is to represent the packaging and processing machinery industry at a very high calibre trade show, which has become known now as AUSPACK PLUS."
Today, the Association has an increased focus, not just on packaging machinery, but also on processing, and both of these elements of manufacturing will be focussed on at AUSPACK PLUS, which over its 30 years has created a loyal following and a well-respected reputation.
"Both the Association and AUSPACK PLUS have significantly grown over the last 30 years. AUSPACK PLUS has become the premier packaging, processing machinery and materials show in Australia. The show was sold out months ago, which demonstrates the true strength of the event and the acceptance of a trade show run by the industry for the industry," he says.
"What AUSPACK PLUS represents is a premium packaging and processing machinery and materials show … where the best technologies from around the world can be seen in one space."
Dingley [pictured below], who's been on the APPMA board since 2002 and is also general manager of operations at Matthews Australasia, which will also be exhibiting at AUSPACK PLUS, says the manufacturing industry today is being faced with a lot of changes and challenges.
"The industry has changed significantly in recent years, and I think, from an Association point of view, we need to change with the times as well. We need to stay relevant for our members and for the industry.
"We read about the pressures that manufacturers are facing daily, in the newspapers, in trade magazines, on the news at night. It obviously has a flow-on effect to our members. So if manufacturing is hurting in Australia then our members hurt.
"The impact of the high Australian dollar and the effect it has on manufacturing exports has been talked about a lot. So we are seeing manufacturing having to change in Australia. We are having to adapt to the new ways of doing business and the impacts that they might have moving forward," Dingley explains.
Part of this adaptation is the continued embracement of automation, something which all manufacturers have had to consider in today's technology-driven world.
"They have to do things faster and leaner. There are a lot of lean projects going on at the moment. Quality has to stand out, not just because of the cheaper imports, but also because of consumer expectations. Consumers expect more. So a lot of manufacturing is faced with the need to upgrade, to produce at a lower cost but still maintain a higher quality."
With quality front of mind for both industry members and consumers, it's somewhat ironic that another growing trend in the industry is consolidation. Manufacturers' growing reliance on equipment, which often delivers efficiency and productivity benefits beyond what humans are capable of, means that products and machines are, innevitably, replacing people.
"Manufacturing and production is changing. Plants are being consolidated. Where there may have been three plants previously, there may now only be one," says Dingley.
"But that one plant now needs to be not only a lot more automated, but also more flexible as it is doing the same job that three plants did 10 or 15 years ago."
Yes, consolidation and automation might be growing trends in the industry today, but if conditions are so difficult at the moment, can Australian manufacturers really afford to be investing in the latest and greatest new technologies?
"It's a case of perhaps they can't afford not to," says Dingley. "To survive, production lines have to be a lot more productive, efficient and flexible to cope with the quickest change-over times between products. Yes, there may be some investment required, but the output is what's important. [Manufacturers] have to work on being more productive. They have to work on efficiency improvements which will help them to get their return on investment from upgrading to these new pieces of machinery.
"There are cost pressures involved but manufacturers are looking for more than just the best price, they're looking for productivity and efficiency across the board. It's a big discussion point at a lot of meetings that the APPMA is involved in and which our members are having.
"We are having to demonstrate that new machinery really is going to deliver on a whole range of the KPIs which production lines are currently being tested against."
Dingley says AUSPACK PLUS is the perfect opportunity for the industry's decision makers to see all the products that they've researched and read about in the flesh, so to speak.
"The worldwide web makes information more accessible these days, with technical information on machinery now readily available, at any time of the day or night.
"Manufacturers certainly do their homework. They understand the machinery, but at AUSPACK PLUS, in one place, they get to see and compare all the machinery that they may be looking at and which they have researched online. They can come to the show, see the equipment right there in front of them, and therefore review the functionality and human interface which cannot be experienced on a web page.
"More importantly, visitors can then discuss face to face with the suppliers their requirements. AUSPACK PLUS allows visitors to round-off their research," Dingley says.
What lies ahead
So what do the next 30 years look like for the APPMA? Dingley told Food magazine that the Association, just like its members, is in no position to look that far ahead – or at least with any real certainty.
"I don't think anyone these days and in this environment can predict with true confidence what lies ahead, 30 years from now. I think what's important is the next five to 10 years, and then the next five to 10 years after that.
"I know we'd all like to think that we'll have businesses that are relevant in 30 years' time but it will take a lot of hard work. Certainly the Association is going to be here for another 30 years, to grow AUSPACK PLUS and to support our growing member services as well.
"Let's put it this way: Australians are resilient people. We don't have a large manufacturing base, but it is certainly an important manufacturing base to Australia and to the economy. Yes, we're going to see continuous change, because at the end of the day the manufacturing industry is about continuous improvement," says Dingley.
"Who knows what the next 30 years will bring? But one thing is for certain: it will bring change and every organisation, every business that has a touch-point with manufacturing, regardless of where you sit in the food chain, so to speak, will have to continue to adapt and improve."