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Orientate magazin in conversation with: Mr Bernhard Wandinger, Head of Product Line Specialty Machines

06/05/2020

“Lindauer DORNIER has been developing and producing film stretching lines for the packaging and plastic film industry since 1955. Today, about a third of all film production systems installed worldwide come from here”

Mr Wandinger is Head of Product Line Specialty Machines at leading biax machinery producer Lindauer DORNIER GmbH, a position he has held since 2011. Prior to this he held several senior positions within global technology company Voith, most recently as Vice President New Business Development. He holds an Economics degree from the University of Hamburg, Germany, and an MBA from INSEAD, France. Here he talks to Orientate about innovations and developments within Lindauer DORNIER, the global market for film stretching lines and within the wider global biaxially oriented film industry.

For those less familiar with your company please could you give a brief overview of DORNIER. DORNIER also operates in other industries, could you explain the level of your participation in those industries and contrast them to the biax film industry?

Lindauer DORNIER GmbH was founded in 1950 by Peter Dornier, son of the aviation pioneer Claude Dornier, at the site in Lindau-Rickenbach, Germany, which remains its headquarters to this day. As the first fruits of his search for a new field of activity, the company began manufacturing shuttle weaving machines for producing woven fabrics. This was quickly followed by speciality machines, including film stretching lines and drying systems for the paper and board, and building panel industries. Textile finishing machines for circular knitted goods were added to the portfolio in the mid-1960s.

The company is organized into three product lines: Specialty Machines (including film stretching lines), Weaving Machines and Composite Systems. Lindauer DORNIER has been developing and producing film stretching lines for the packaging and plastic film industry since 1955. Today, about a third of all film production systems installed worldwide come from here. In terms of system construction, DORNIER is a market leader in the engineering and production of film stretching lines for producing ultra thin plastic films. Besides packaging, particularly for food and pharmaceuticals, these films are used in high-tech products such as semiconductors, capacitors for hybrid vehicles and as film displays for smartphones, flat screens and tablets.

Another mainstay of the business is the manufacture of weaving machines for producing clothing, home textiles and technical textiles with the rapier weaving machine developed in 1967 and the air-jet weaving machine introduced in 1989. These are important milestones in the company's emergence as the only German weaving machine manufacturer of international repute. The DORNIER Composite Systems® line pools decades of experience in the construction of weaving machines and systems for manufacturing plastic films with products including the P1 roving weaving machine, 3D weaving machine, tape production line and tape weaving machine.

With its three product lines, DORNIER has earned its place as a global technology leader. In 2017, the family-owned German company with around 1,000 employees (including 60 trainees) recorded order receipts totalling around EUR280 million. All machines and systems are manufactured in the German factories at Lindau and Esseratsweiler with approximately 90 percent of the company's output exported.

What is your USP (unique selling proposition), what differentiates Lindauer DORNIER from other film stretching line manufacturers? What value added features do you offer?

Film stretching lines by DORNIER with a total length of up to 150 meters and production speeds as high as 600 metres per minute are 100 percent "Made in Germany". In keeping with our company slogan "Quality Creates Value", our claim is that we deliver products of the highest possible quality, durability and manufacturing versatility. Because we are so completely convinced of this claim, our vertical range of manufacture is in the order of 90 percent: This means DORNIER not only manufactures complete film stretching lines entirely in-house, but also the associated components, such as the extruders, castingsystems, longitudinal stretching machines, transverse stretching and heat setting machines, post-stretchers, transfer sections and take-up devices. The only components bought in from suppliers are winders, cutting machines and drive and control systems and the like.

Another unique feature is that the systems are always configured to reflect the specific application. This means the equipment differs from one machine to another, and in some cases quite substantially. You could say “No DORNIER film stretching line is the same as any other” because each is developed and built in close consultation with the customer to match his specific need, experiences, requirements and wishes. But all machines and systems made by DORNIER have two things in common: their high quality standard and extremely high reliability.

The USPs of DORNIER film stretching lines include:

  • The oven, and particularly its high heat transfer, the good consistency of the airflow and low wear of the clip chain
  • The faster average line speed
  • The in-house fabrication, which is usually shown to customers and is very warmly appreciated
  • Flexibility and quick grade changeovers

Customers who order a film stretching line from DORNIER expect faster production speeds with the same high film quality and startup help and service. The lines are designed to allow their operators to respond quickly and flexibly to changing market conditions. DORNIER customers value the quality and durability of the film stretching lines as well as the personal commitment of sales and engineering staff, and the family connection. The company's international profile is essential for success in the business of film stretching lines; At the same time, customers also respect the fact that as a family-owned company DORNIER has a long tradition of producing such machines. This makes for an experienced, reliable, constant partner. DORNIER cultivates its own continuous innovation process by constantly refining many details and cooperating and consulting closely with its customers.

To successfully sell relatively expensive, complex equipment it is imperative you fully understand the business of your customers. Over the past five years what have been the biggest changes or challenges facing your film stretching line customers?

In recent years margins have generally fallen, including those for some speciality films, and it has become increasingly difficult to achieve good margins by differentiating the portfolio. Closely connected to this is the existence of overcapacity for some film types in some areas, which is a major challenge for film producers. Questions regarding sustainability and the environment are currently a major challenge for film producers, and are probably here to stay.

Which countries do you see as offering the strongest growth prospects for biax films in the coming years?

Certainly we see a lot of demand coming from India and China, and we expect this to continue going forward.

In recent years China has seen a huge amount of investment in new film lines. Do you think this investment trend has now run its course, or are you still seeing a lot of interest and demand in China?

Besides the standard lines for packaging film, China also has many systems for manufacturing thicker films for industrial applications from low to high profile applications. DORNIER systems are preferred for this as they offer some unique design features, which enable our customers to produce high-quality film with unique physical properties. The amount of investment has certainly been huge, but also the demand has gone up. For certain film types, there is probably some saturation, but for other film types the increase in demand seems to be fairly constant for the time being.

How do you see the industry developing in the future? How do you think the market will develop and how will this effect Lindauer DORNIER?

There are several trends, which are connected to the question of sustainability. The recycling and recyclability of plastics is going to grow in importance. This may affect the type of raw materials and the combination of different materials in plastic films. Despite the negative image of plastic that is currently emerging around the world, the demand for biaxially stretched films will continue to grow, however waste management will also undergo some major changes.

What features/changes are your customers asking for in the development of your film stretching line technology and does it vary from region to region?

A global trend is the interest in energy efficiency. With regard to the different regions, our experience is that India is mainly interested in high outputs/high efficiency, while other countries such as Japan and increasingly China are looking to produce film of high/ the highest quality.

In order to get the best from their film stretching lines, what advice would you give film producers?

There is not one special piece of advice we can give, because film producers are subject to quite different boundary conditions. Certainly, it helps if the line can be designed exactly according to the needs of the film producer. Furthermore, the film producer should keep in mind that a new line is going to produce film for many years to come, which underlines the importance of reliability in equipment and service.

How is the BOPET industry faring in comparison to BOPP? Do you see more interest in BOPET investment than BOPP or other biax materials at the present time? Are the trends/interests different in different parts of the world?

Clearly the investment cycles of BOPET and BOPP lines are not completely synchronized. The demand for film stretching lines at any particular time is not only dependent on the current demand for that film type but also on the amount of previously installed capacity. On average, the demand for both BOPET and BOPP lines grows steadily and according to our perception at comparable rates.

Yes, there is some difference in the usage of BOPET and BOPP in the different regions of the world (e.g. India being slightly biased towards BOPET while China towards BOPP) however, the properties and applications of the two film types are different, which means they are not really interchangeable and that is why both film types have happily coexisted together a long time.

What do you perceive to be the biggest barriers to innovation in biax film?

It is always a challenge to upscale results from lab experiments to production conditions, however innovation is taking place all the time.

In the past the development of the biax industry was fed by processing innovations combined with chemical developments from the polymer industry. To what extent are the raw material suppliers assisting in the growth and development of the biax film industry today?

The raw material suppliers play a key role in some cases (BOPP) and less so in other cases (BOPET). Growth and innovation will increasingly be influenced by raw material design and this includes optimizing the raw material to enable higher line speeds, developing novel material for speciality products (e.g. matte films with higher matte effect), and making available recycled material as raw material for the film stretching process.

What factors drive the purchasing decision and what considerations need to be taken into account when choosing what lines to purchase?

Both a quick Return of Investment as well as long-term economic prospects play a role. Apart from that there are many other factors which however are not specific to the film stretching business such as location factors. The occurrence of investment cycles is currently seen more clearly than ever.

While biax lines have become faster and wider, the basic technology is much the same as that originally developed 40 years ago. What new developments can we expect to see in biax lines of the future?

DORNIER has unveiled a number of major innovations over the last 40 years. Perhaps one of the most impressive examples is the "Penthouse", which is the area above the actual oven, in which the air is heated and mixed, and pressure is built up. Another very current example is the new air guidance system, for which a patent has been filed. The various clips are also worth mentioning as the DORNIER clip technology ensures best design for lowest maintenance cost.

Certainly, a modern film stretching line looks very different from a line from 40 years ago and a line 40 years from now will again look very different. In what specific way, however, remains to be seen. Regarding line speed and width, modern film stretching lines have reached dimensions which will not be easy to extend. On the other hand, the same was thought in earlier times, when the output was much smaller. Key development aspects for the near future include efficiency (regarding energy, raw material), integration/inter-connection of all parts, and flexibility.

The leading biax film stretching line producers are all European companies and in other regions of the world film extruders are often reliant on imported technology like yours. Do you expect viable equipment manufacturers to emerge in other regions in the future?

There are some Asian producers of film stretching lines, however, due to the combination of high complexity and the relatively small number of lines sold, the number of film stretching line producers is rather limited. The complexity of a biaxial film stretching line can easily be underestimated. Furthermore, the lines are expected to run for many years, and a reliable and experienced partner that offers long-term service and support is something appreciated by many film producers.

What trends do you see in flexible packaging that are likely to have an impact on equipment needs? Which end use applications are driving demand?

There is a trend towards further optimizing all kinds of different film properties, for instance mechanical properties, barrier, optical properties, etc. In terms of applications, it is interesting to observe the wide variety of uses for biaxially stretched films. Nevertheless, a main driving factor is still its use as a flexible packaging material for food.

With film producers and converters ever more aware of driving production efficiencies and profitability coupled with increasing focus on sustainability and waste reduction, as an equipment manufacturer how are you responding to these challenges?

For us it is very important to understand and implement the demands our customers have. We devote a great deal of development to further optimizing production efficiency without compromising on environmental issues. In fact, nowadays almost all the waste produced within a film stretching site is reused as raw material.

What are your expectations of biax film producers and how can they best support your activities? If you could change or improve one aspect of how biax film producers interact with you, what would that be and why?

We as film stretching line manufacturers are not in a position to tell the film producers how to act and interact with film stretching line manufacturers. That being said, we think it is always beneficial for both sides if the interaction is close and trusting.

Given your long-term involvement in biax film, what keeps you passionate about the industry?

It is very pleasing to see how certain film manufacturers have grown steadily to become global players, and how this success has often been based on DORNIER lines in terms of equipment. The long-term partnership that often results from a first project is appealing, and something special to the industry. From a technological point of view, the film stretching process may appear to be simple at first sight but is in fact incredibly rich, versatile, and fascinating. In the production of a simple biaxially stretched film there is a lot of technology involved and all the pieces have to fit together.

What do you consider to be the main challenges that your business faces? Or put another way, what keeps you awake at night?

The trend towards reducing the negative environmental aspects of plastic waste will probably continue to grow, which may trigger some disruptive changes one has to be prepared for. Nevertheless, the biaxial stretching process as a whole has proven to be very robust against displacement by other technologies, because it combines low production costs and high-quality plastic films better than other competing technologies and materials. The big challenge for the entire packaging industry will be to make people more aware of the value that packaging materials undoubtedly have, and that includes both the functional value as food protection and the material value after use.