Since 2020 Thomas Franken has been project director K- Global Portfolio Plastics & Rubber (Messe Du¨sseldorf GmbH), responsible for K- The World 's No.1 Trade Fair for Plastics and Rubber and it 's international shows. Thomas was deputy project director from 2015 – 2020.
Chris Lefteri: 70 years ago when the K Fair first opened its doors, the expectations of plastics were high for very different reasons than they are today. As you have been building to the 2022 show what have you been hearing from your exhibitors and partners about the current expectations and perception of plastics?
Thomas Franken: At the premiere of K in Düsseldorf in 1952, the plastics and rubber industry itself was just getting started. And so, at that time, things that were supposed to make everyday life more beautiful and more comfortable were the center of attraction, like colorful plastic tableware, PVC raincoats and gauzy nylon stockings. The fair was open to the general public at that time. As early as 1963, K became a special-interest trade fair for professionals. This was because the plastics industry was rapidly specializing and, in addition to standard polymers, more and more high-tech plastics for special solutions were presented in Düsseldorf, attracting attention in electronics, medicine, automotive engineering and aerospace. For a long time, the industry concentrated on permanently increasing the performance of machines and a continuous increase in production for more and more areas of application.
This millennium, Plastics have an image problem, mainly due to plastic waste that pollutes the oceans, for example. But an important and highly exciting change is taking place in the industry, which became particularly clear at K 2019. The industry is now not only taking responsibility, but taking the lead on issues as important as climate protection for example. At last K the industry underscored the need for a functioning circular economy along the entire resource chain and already presented concrete solutions. After all, plastic continues to be an innovative, indispensable and forward-looking material. It offers low-emission and energy-saving efficient processes and technologies. Without it, resource conservation and sustainability would be impossible. Climate protection, circular economy and digitalization are therefore the three hot topics at K 2022 and will be omnipresent in the solutions of the exhibiting companies.
CL: As this is your first K Show running the event what are you ambitions?
TF: K 2022 is my first K as project director. But I've been part of the K team already from 2015 on, so K is not new territory for me and I know the industry and the exhibitors quite well.
K Düsseldorf is the sector's uncontested No. 1 trade fair worldwide for many reasons. Nowhere else is international participation as high and this diversity ensures that the complete global ranges of products, solutions and trends are presented – even in special segments. Furthermore, K still has the greatest number of world premieres and the highest degree of innovation. As the leading event for the global industry, K serves as a platform which also leads in terms of hot topics for the industry, is future-oriented and offers intensive exchange between business, science, research and the most relevant international associations – a fact also reflected by the K 2022 specials. K is the place where the visions for the future are jointly formed by the sector.
My ambition is to further expand and strengthen the position of K as the most relevant meeting place for the entire industry worldwide, where the industry can demonstrate its innovative power and set the course for the next generations.
CL: K is one of the best global resources for designers –as well as many other industries– with a huge amount of information. What is the best way for visitors to navigate and find what they need across the 17 halls?
TF: The three major product areas are clearly grouped in the exhibition halls and can be directly identified on the hall plans by color coding. Machinery and equipment occupy halls 1, 3-4, 8b as well as 9-17. Raw materials and auxiliaries can be found in halls 5, 6, 7, 7a, 8a, 8b. Semi-finished products, technical components and reinforced plastic products are located in hall 5, 6, 7, 7a, 8a, 8b. Furthermore, in Hall 9 the main focus is on recycling technologies.
The visitors should use the exhibitor database on www.k-online.com, which is the heart of trade fair preparation. There, you will find not only the interactive hall plan that shows you where exactly an exhibitor is located in the hall, but also a wide range of information about the individual exhibitors. They store product news, contact persons as well as company and press news in their exhibitor entry. In addition, these will be indexed by the KI group editorial team according to target products and application markets.
The Matchmaking-Tool allows trade visitors and all exhibitors to search for the right contacts at K-online. You just need to submit your interests and search parameters. Thanks to fast matching of shared interests, recommendations and personalized proposals will be delivered immediately. This lets exhibitors and visitors already make contact beforehand or conveniently agree on appointments during K itself.
CL: If you were to imagine in, let's say nine years time, what the plastics industry might be presenting at the K, what would you imagine that to be, if you were to look into the future?
TF: The industry is facing challenges right now. The public sees plastics as a main reason for many environmental issues the world is dealing with. But it is mostly a problem of waste management. Plastics is a material of great value that can be produced and re-used in a sustainable manner and therefore I think that there is still an enormous potential if it comes to circular economy and recycling of plastics.
In a few years, the machines will probably be further developed and will be able to sort waste and the plastics it contains even better and thus lead it back into more and more closed cycles. The use of recyclates will also increase in the future. Currently, recyclates are mostly only used in packaging for detergents and cleaning agents and not yet for food. A lot will certainly happen here in the next few years and the quality of recyclates will become continuously better. Another example is the topic of mobility or e-mobility, keyword: lightweight construction. Plastics help to make cars lighter and more economical. There is potential for plastic as a material in powertrains, interiors and exteriors as well as car bodies. Here, plastics can make a significant contribution to energy savings as construction and functional material.
That's why I am positive that in the upcoming years solutions will be presented at K that will help us to actively counter the great challenges of our time and of the future. These include, for example, population growth and demographic change, globalization, climate change, energy supply, medical progress and technological change. Plastics can contribute to a positive development in all these fields.
CL: Are there any new highlights that you designers would want to know about in 2022?
TF: A new official format of K 2022 is the Circular Economy Forum by VDMA. 13 Companies will display in additional tents in the outside area between hall 10 and 16 what is already possible when it comes to use plastics in closed cycles.
Part of the Circular Economy process is also the topic of Design for Recycling. it is alarming to see that many plastic products still cannot be recycled meaningfully. Material mixtures, a variety of plastic materials and additives used prevent re-use in a circular fashion. The solution for this problem is known but is still not receiving sufficient attention: Design for recycling. K 2022 will help give this topic a big push forward.
CL: Lastly what's your favorite part of K?
TF: K still fascinates me as a whole. Halls with producers show the most diverse applications from racing cars and wind turbines to sneakers and toothbrushes. And the machine builders are no less exciting. Machines, some as big as a house, some so small that they fit on a small table fascinate me. And they are becoming faster and faster, more and more modern and well designed. So they are also real eye-catchers visually. That's why it's hard for me to say what my favorite is. But my favorite moment is definitely the first day of the trade show. The gates open, visitors and exhibitors from all over the world come together again to see each other live. I'm really looking forward to October 19!