Swissmem (Swiss Association of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Industries) is Switzerland’s largest industrial employer, and account for 31 per cent of the country’s exports, an important economic and political player. Swissmem’s Secretary General, Cornelia Buchwalder speaks on how the year 2017 was for the Swiss textile machinery industry in terms of performance, and pluses and minuses in the prospects for 2018.
Excerpts...How has been the going for the Swiss textile machinery industry during 2017 in terms of performance? What are the pluses and minuses in the prospects for 2018 globally?
The year 2017 was a very successful year for the Swiss textile machinery manufacturers. The most important export countries were China (+21 per cent), Turkey (+18 per cent), India (-28 per cent), Germany (+10 per cent) and the US (+8 per cent). But these figures only show part of the Swiss textile machines being manufactured and installed around the world. Most of the machines sold come from local production facilities all over the world and are therefore not included in the Swiss export statistics. The expectations for the Indian market have not been fulfilled. But India was the number three export market for our Swiss textile machinery manufacturers in 2017 and stays a very important one.
Even though export figures show another picture, our companies have very good order intake for 2018. And also order intake from India is catching up again after some slow quarters. We expect a global slowdown in the course of 2019, even though the current geopolitical environment makes a prediction very difficult.How has sustainability drive been faring and how is the response from the industry? Tell us also about the Swiss machinery industry’s contribution to sustainability.
Sustainability covers the following four aspects: environmental, economic, social and cultural. Often the environmental aspect is primarily taken into consideration. But the other aspects are as important. Machines that improve safety, minimise waste, consume less energy and deliver maximum return on investment are designed and produced in a sustainable way. Building such a machine requires a holistic approach analysing operational efficiency, safety, functionality, productivity, material use, ease of operation and maintenance. Our Swiss industry – often ranking as global innovation champion – develops its machines in taking all that into consideration.
Most of the companies are focusing on digitalisation, Industry 4.0 and energy saving technologies. How do you see the future of this in Asia, and particularly in India?
Some years ago we launched a programme to support our members in its innovation process. Especially for SME’s, we recognise that the task of innovating their portfolio, services and processes is a difficult one. This is mainly due to the lack of resources. Therefore we started an initiative that offers to each of our members to analyse their innovation process and portfolio with an external consultant. This allows them to strengthen their respective capabilities and maybe to even find an additional innovation field outside the traditional textile market. Important is the ability to transform these concepts into marketable products and services. In addition, we have just launched Industry 4.0 workshops. We aim to provide to our members support in their Industry 4.0 journey, so they are enabled to develop their products, processes and services in accordance with the latest needs and with their business strategy.
Digitalisation will change the relation between customers and suppliers, as there will be much more interaction and opportunities for both sides. Personally, I see that Asian countries are often much more advanced and used to digital solutions than European countries. Therefore I expect India to integrate digital solutions in high speed, which will help to strengthen its position in the global textile market.Which are the segments in the Swiss textile machinery industry that hold out good scope for the Indian textile industry? How does India fare with Swiss technologies compared to other emerging economies of Asia?
Within our membership, we can offer machines and solutions for the whole textile value chain. Historically, Switzerland was and is very strong in the spinning sector. Many of our 44 member companies have solutions for this part of the value chain. But also weaving, knitting, embroidery, finishing, coating and quality control solutions are being provided by our members. As can be seen from the export statistics, India is very much relying on Swiss quality and machines and staying an important customer of Swiss textile machine manufacturers.
What are the new strategies Swiss companies may be exploring to boost their investment and collaborations in India in the near future?
As said, we have 44 members in the Swiss Textile Machinery Association. And they all have their individual strategy with respect to tackle markets and customers, including India. Therefore it is hard to define a strategy that includes the whole membership.
How flexible are the Swiss companies to adapt to changes in the textile industry?
To answer this question, I would like to go back in time… Many of the companies in our association of textile machinery manufacturers were founded in the second half of the 19th century, have gone through many ups and downs and have gained outstanding reputation over time. Having such a long history, the Swiss companies have constantly managed to anticipate changes, developed their business strategy and have continuously evolved. With this history, I am very sure that Swiss companies will also play an eminent role in the (textile) world of tomorrow. The ability to innovate and adapt to a changing environment will ensure that they find solutions to the upcoming challenges.
For the seventh year in a row Switzerland is the leading nation for innovation, according to the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Switzerland has held the top spot since 2011. So I am very confident that the Swiss industry will keep and even expand its position in the Textile Machinery world.
"Within our membership, we can offer machines and solutions for the whole textile value chain. Historically, Switzerland was and is very strong in the spinning sector.”