In terms of national as well as international competition, the German adhesives industry considers itself very well positioned. In order to be able to meet the sustainability criteria of the EU’s Green Deal, adhesives are steadily gaining in importance in many industrial sectors and the commercial trades. CO2 savings, as well as energy and resource efficiency, have top priority in this regard. Dr. Vera Haye, chief executive officer of the German Adhesives Association (IVK), provides us with insights into the industry’s current issues in an exclusive interview.
Dr. Haye, congratulations on your appointment as chief executive officer of the German Adhesives Association as of the 1st of January, 2021. Which specific tasks awaited you on your desk at the beginning of the year?
Haye: Thank you very much. For starters, there was a large bouquet of flowers on my desk from my colleagues, which I was very pleased to receive. The COVID 19 pandemic is of course continuing to challenge the adhesives industry and the German Adhesives Association this year and, to varying degrees, the ongoing lockdown is impacting different market segments and thus our member companies. A forecast for the year 2021 is hardly possible. However, we’re convinced that the German adhesives industry is still very well positioned within both the national and the international marketplaces. Event planning also remains difficult for 2021. The IVK is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and of course we would have liked to commemorate this in a fitting manner within the setting of an anniversary conference. Unfortunately, the current situation doesn’t allow for this. I hope we can make up for it next year. The European Commission’s Green Deal activities are no less challenging – primary issues include the “Circular Economy Action Plan” and the “Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability”, to mention just two of many. Here too, our most important task is to inform members and work with them to find solutions.
Word has it that industrial bonding is a key technology of the 21st century? How so?
The use of adhesives has become indispensable in many industrial sectors and commercial trades, and will become even more important in the future in order to be able to meet the sustainability criteria specified by the EU’s Green Deal. CO2 savings, as well as energy and resource efficiency, have top priority in this regard.
Nearly any combination of materials – of identical or different types – can be joined with the help of bonding technology without suffering any loss of material properties or the associated advantages.
Many technological developments are only made possible through the use of state-of-the-art adhesives. Energy-saving lightweight designs in the transport sector, as well as electric cars, wind power turbines and photovoltaic systems – which represent key factors for the achievement of climate goals – are noteworthy in this regard.
Which issues will be especially challenging for the adhesives industry in the years to come?
Alone the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability adopted in October 2020 involves more than 50 individual planned measures. REACH and CLP regulations, as well as numerous others, will be amended – and they’ll become stricter. These issues have to be supported with technical content and our members need to be informed.
The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan stipulates that materials should be kept in circulation for as long as possible. And thus in the spirit of efficient use of materials and resources, the ability to recycle and repair products is of great importance. Bonded product components have to be detachable, so that they can be replaced and sorted for recycling. This necessitates innovative solutions for so-called “debonding on demand”.
How does the German adhesives industry see itself positioned with regard to digitalisation?
Detailed material and process-related data, throughout the entire value creation chain, permit optimisation of the parameters of the respective bonded product. In this way, digitalisation will also be able to optimise the recyclability of bonded products in the future, and thus make an important contribution with regard to their resource and cost efficiency.
To what extent does bonding technology supports the circular economy and eco-balance?
As compared with alternative technologies, bonded products can improve both energy and material efficiency. Sustainable circular economy means that products have to be durable, repairable and recyclable, while saving as much energy as possible. Lightweight designs with smart materials, which can often only be bonded, are especially noteworthy in this respect. In particular in the automotive and transport sectors, lightweight materials save a great deal of energy. The service life of rechargeable batteries is increased many times over if they’re bonded with a thermally conductive adhesive that disperses generated heat away from the battery. Defective or broken products of any kind can be repaired with a suitable adhesive. And good product design which also permits recycling at the end of the product’s lifecycle can be achieved by selecting the right adhesive.
The German adhesives industry is considered a technology leader – nearly 50% of its production has been exported thus far. What’s the reason for this success?
German industry is known in general as a technology leader in many areas, especially where high-tech products are involved, which are always made of various different materials. Bonding is the only technology which makes it possible to join different high-tech materials without any loss of their special properties. And thus bonding technology is always an integral constituent of high-quality capital goods. Examples of important sectors include automobile and aircraft manufacturing, railway vehicle manufacturing, electronics, machine building, optics, technical textiles and many more. And nowadays, even supposedly simple operations such as gluing labels or shoes are high-tech applications which require highly specialised adhesives.
Nevertheless, the mood barometer in the German adhesives industry has fallen with regard to the prevailing market situation, as well as sales and export trends. Why?
The German adhesives industry operates within a heterogeneous and volatile setting. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic is not only a global health crisis, it’s also placing a significant burden on the world economy, the consequences of which aren’t yet fully foreseeable. The risk remains that international supply chains will be impacted by production stoppages or border closures. Production shutdowns due to suspected COVID cases also pose a major threat. Trade conflicts and Brexit complications add to the difficulty. Overall economic recovery is expected to be slow. And thus it’s only understandable that a given amount of uncertainty prevails.
How important do you think it is for companies in the adhesives industry to demonstrate their presence at trade fairs and exchange ideas with customers face to face?
During the course of the pandemic it’s become apparent that some things can be digitalised, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face, personal meetings with business partners and customers. As networking platforms for B2B dialogues, trade fairs offer the ideal setting to this end.
Very little attention is focused on the adhesives industry by the general public. Do you want to change that?
Haye: The potential of adhesives is being recognised by the general public to an ever greater extent. Public relations work has always been, and will remain, one of the IVK’s most important tasks. Supported by our Public Relations Advisory Board, we inform consumers about the contribution adhesives make to our everyday products. Our magazine, “Kleben fürs Leben” (Bonding for Life), is published in print once a year, and informative articles covering all aspects of bonding are also available digitally on our website at https://www.klebstoffe.com/kleben-fuers-leben/. And we never tire of explaining the many advantages and great potential offered by bonding technology to politicians and the public authorities.
On which of the IVK’s key tasks will you focus special attention as its chief executive officer?
The most important task will be to continue reacting to current general conditions such as economic, political and technological trends, and to communicate these to the various IVK committees and its members. Regulatory affairs at the European level will certainly be subject to continued increasing importance. The Sustainability Advisory Board and the Public Relations Advisory Board will provide interdisciplinary support for all of our work.