Interview with Cornelia Buchwalder – Swissmem
By : Middle East Textile Journal
Swissmem is the leading association for SMEs and large companies in Switzerland’s mechanical and electrical engineering industries (MEM industries) and related technology-oriented sectors.
Could you please let us know more about SWISSMEM, members and services, goals and success story?
Swissmem provides tailored services to promote the ability of its approximately 1’100 member companies to compete at the national and international levels.
These services include professional advice on employment, commercial, contract and environmental law, energy efficiency, and knowledge and technology transfer. In addition, Swissmem offers market-oriented training for employees working in the sector. Swissmem operates a number of strong networks. Twenty-seven specialist groups, various experience-sharing groups and forums give member companies an opportunity to discuss technical questions or work on joint projects.
The Swiss Textile Machinery Association is the oldest of these specialist groups within Swissmem and was founded in 1940 and therefore celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. Our role is to promote the importance of the Swiss Textile Machinery industry.
Interestingly, this industry is much better known abroad than in Switzerland. Our events are a first step to present the diversity of the Swiss textile machinery industry. Especially for SMEs this is an important platform, as they have a much more difficult time building up a global presence. Our activities always focus on both goals – on the one hand the short-term initiation of business, but also the long-term customer relationship and the establishment of the brands of our members and of the Swiss textile machinery industry.
The 44 member companies of the Swiss Textile Machinery association are present in every major sector along the textile value chain. They cover all the sectors ranging from fibre and yarn manufacturing through knitting, weaving, nonwovens, dyeing and finishing. In many of these disciplines, such as textile testing and quality control and yarn spinning, Swiss companies lead the world.
As a global leader in the textile machinery sector, what do you think about the textile machinery industry situation globally in this hard time and what is your prediction for post-Corona Period??
There are plenty of post-COVID challenges. The first one is that we don’t know when post-COVID starts. In different countries, the pandemic is in different stages and the development also concerning possible second waves is unclear. In the early days of the pandemic, many governments, including Switzerland’s, offered support. In Switzerland, for example, short-time working was made possible very quickly. In addition, a possibility was very quickly created for companies to obtain credit at 0% interest. But this assistance is now being reduced step by step. Accordingly, many companies expect Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 to become even more difficult.
The Swiss MEM industries (as part of the Swiss export economy) are strongly integrated in international value chains. Its export share is almost 80%, whereas one of the Swiss Textile Machinery industry is almost 100%. The massive decline in demand in the important sales markets of Swiss industry (EU, USA, Asia), exacerbated by already weak economic activity and strong Swiss franc, in combination with business limiting travel restrictions, leads to a strong decline in capacity utilization, which has a negative impact on corporate profits and the Swiss GDP (which is forecasted to drop by 6.7%). For the export industry, a significant recovery in demand in the respective markets of the MEM industries is necessary, as is the lifting of European and intercontinental travel restrictions.
Please update our readers with latest statistics of Switzerland textile machinery export.
After quite a few years with “best-ever” order volume and results, Switzerland, as many other industrial countries, encounters a heavy slowdown of our industry. It has become apparent that 2020 will be a very difficult year for all market players due to the global corona pandemic.
In Switzerland we never had an imposed lockdown for the industry. So most of the companies continued production – on a lower level, due to postponement of orders and projects, supply chain difficulties and the insecure situation in general. But as long as consumers don’t start shopping again, the business will not recover. Therefore the prospects for 2020 are globally not very favourable.
which kind of innovations and progress is expected in upcoming years in Switzerland textile machinery sector?
The important trends continue to be sustainability, digitisation and the circular economy. Therefore many of the innovations will integrate these aspect. Industry 4.0 offers various possibilities, be it in product or process optimization or in the development of completely new business models. Our member companies use these possibilities to generate maximum customer benefit. With regards to sustainability, the optimized utilisation of resources is again one of the major topics. Raw materials are scarce and energy is expensive, therefore making our machines more efficient in both aspects is key.
How was your member’s reaction to Pandemic? Do you have any member active in field of mask and protective cloth line or related sectors?
At the beginning of the pandemic, it became apparent that Switzerland had hardly any production capacity for face masks and protective clothing. It was dependent on imports, which proved to be difficult because these products were in short supply globally and supply chains were also interrupted. Several of our member companies have contributed to the fact that the supply of protective masks in Switzerland is now assured. For example, the company Autefa Solutions Switzerland. It has enabled the import of two machines with a production capacity of 40’000 FFP 2 masks per day. This production has now started. Two further examples are our member companies Jakob Müller and Steiger Participations. These companies reacted quickly in the supply crisis and lauched production of certified community masks.
What do you think about Middle East and Africa textile market and it’s potentials?
In recent years we have focused on countries in which our industry still sees substantial development potential. For this reason, we have also held textile machinery symposia in countries in the MENA region, namely Egypt and Iran.
Do you have export to the MENA region? Which countries in the Middle East and Africa is your main destination? How big is your market in Middle East and Africa?
If we look at the Swiss export figures for the textile machinery industry in 2019, the following five countries accounted for the most exports: China, USA, Germany, Turkey and India. The most important export markets in the MENA region in 2019 were Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Exports to this region account for less than 5 percent of total Swiss textile machinery exports. These figures show just how great the potential in the region still is. However, these statistics only show part of the reality. Many of our member companies have production facilities outside Switzerland, whether in the EU, China or India. Sales of machines from these plants are not included in Swiss statistics.
What are your strategies for expanding your market in the MENA region in future?
In the coming years we will continue to focus on the countries of the MENA region. We will regularly review to what extent we can bring together our member companies and textile companies in these countries. Be it by means of a national pavilion at a trade fair or specific symposia. In the current situation, contact via digital media must of course also be considered.
Anything else to add?
The Swiss Textile Machinery Association has recently launched its new campaign and the webpage www.swisstextilemachinery.ch. They both focus on the innovative spirit of our country. Did you know that the chocolate bar, fizzy drinks and the computer mouse were all invented in Switzerland? “Invented in Switzerland. Where the same innovative spirit drives textile progress today.” This is also reflected by the years of experience of our 44 members – an impressive number of 4060 years!
This means that 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 an 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.
One generation has passed to the next know-how and experience along with the inventor gen. This gen driving innovations was and still is necessary for Swiss textile companies to survive, will say overcoming the disadvantage of a minor market earlier and of a high-income market nowadays.