GN Thermoforming Equipment, based in Chester, Canada, is the global market leader for thin thermoformed plastic items such as food containers. How have the requirements/needs of your customers changed in recent years – and especially in times of the pandemic?
The pandemic has certainly changed the way our customers conducted business which meant we had to change our approach to sales and service. With travel coming to a halt and many companies not allowing nonemployees into their factories a lot of our training and machine installations became virtual. We also had to develop new sales tools quickly to meet the new requirements. With travel being limited, GN developed online training programs for all our equipment. These programs had different themes such as process training, maintenance, and general machine operation training. The training was held in a classroom setting using web based applications like Microsoft Teams. These programs were very well accepted by our customers and will continue to be offered in the future.
The GN800 in particular offers exceptional production efficiency, rapidly increases quantities and enormously shortens production times. What role does digitalization play in this?
DATA at your fingertips in what the world of manufacturing now wants. Customers want to track machinery efficiencies and understand causes if the norm changes.
We see digitalization as a big part of our developments in machine advancements. By collecting inputs from various components of the machine you can monitor power consumption, predict component failure, and monitor reasons for downtime. We can also support customers with process improvements and predictive maintenance.
Resource conservation, circular economy and climate protection are current hot topics in the plastics industry. What importance do these aspects have when you develop a new machine?
The earth has been mistreated for many years and we are now seeing the effects of this mistreatment. We as cooperate citizens need to work together to ensure what we manufacture and how we manufacture is friendly to the environment. Building a circular economy will take a lot of effort and education but we must all do our part to make it happen. The topics you noted are always at the forefront when designing new equipment at GN. From an equipment manufacturers point of view, we need to ensure our thermoformers are energy efficient, ergonomically designed and produce the maximum amount of product per kilogramm of material converted.
GN has a solid track record and reputation for designing energy efficient machines producing the lowest possible product scrap, so it is very important to us in new machine design. The need for plastic packaging will continue to grow. Plastic packaging is a strong light weight product that is very well suited for many applications. The fact that it can be transparent while maintaining excellent protection for outside contaminates places it in high demand. Plastic is easily recyclable and material selection and innovative product design needs to allow for the ease of recycling.
You have your own training and sales centre in Europe in the Czech Republic. In addition, exactly one year ago you entered into a partnership with Reifenhäuser MEA for the Middle East and Africa. In your opinion, how does the North American market differ from the European market and the MEA market? What special features have to be taken into account in each case?
The North American market is a large volume market for the most part. I would say the cultural differences within the EU countries make for more types of packaging in smaller volumes whereas the North American market requires high qualities of a single package design in many cases. These high volumes relate to the needs for large format thermoformers. Earlier this year GN became part of BMG (formerly Brown Machine Group) which includes the BROWN and LYLE brands of thermoforming machines. LYLE and BROWN who are producers of very large format thermoformers. The majority of sales for those brands are within the North America. When GN started producing contact heat thermoformers 40 years ago we produced a 560x510 unit for all markets. Today we do not make that model anymore. Our main seller today in 760 x 530 outside NA and 890 x 635 within NA. We also sell a larger 1140 x 810 within NA. We see the same trend with our FCS line of thermoformers. Beyond platen size the main materials in Europe/MEA and NA are similar (PET and PP) but product designs are more regional.
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