Black clouds on a clear horizon

In this interview with Makinglife, Riccardo Cavanna, president of Ucima, outlines the packaging machinery market’s scenario marking a record year despite facing significant challenges such as a domestic market downturn and a slowing global economy

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cavenna UCIMA

The packaging machinery sector continues to grow, consistently surpassing previous performance records, indicating a robust health and resilience of the industry. The successful delivery of machinery, previously hindered by raw material shortages, further solidifies this positive outlook. However, against the current positive situation, some clouds are gathering on the horizon.Challenges emerge as the domestic market experiences a downturn, highlighting areas of concern within the industry. Additionally, a general decline in orders in the second half of the year signals potential hurdles ahead, necessitating a cautious approach to investment and cost management. Riccardo Cavanna, president of Ucima explains what challenges the industry will face in the near future.

What situation emerges from the Mecs-Centro Studi Ucima pre-consumptions recently presented? Is there specific data for the pharmaceutical sector or, more generally, the health sector?

I would describe the situation in these terms: ‘Black clouds on a clear horizon’. We have witnessed another record year, we have crossed the 9 billion € turnover threshold for the first time with a 6% increase over 2022. If the final figures confirm this, it will be the third consecutive record after those of 2021 and 2022. Exports, our main vocation, grew by 12%, with positive trends in all the main geographical areas. This result was also due to the delivery of machinery, which had not been possible in 2022 due to the shortage of raw materials. In 2024 we have more than 8 months of guaranteed production (another record). However, the domestic market is lagging, showing a -14% decrease, and we are particularly concerned about the overall decline in orders in the latter half of the year. 2024 will be a year when we must have the courage to continue investing and to persuade our customers to do the same. However, it will undoubtedly also be a year when we need to be vigilant about margins and costs, given the global economic slowdown. On the pharma front, the latest consolidated figures are those for 2022 and they tell us that the pharma and biomedical sector is the number one non-food turnover item, accounting for 16.7% of the entire turnover of Italian manufacturers. Pharma in 2022 has generated a turnover of 1.42 billion €, a growth of 1.1% compared to 2021.

As part of the EU Packaging Regulation, the EU Council decided on 18 December to allow the possibility for Member States to introduce unilateral sustainability requirements: what impact could this decision have on the sector?

As Ucima, we believe that this decision could lead to further fragmentation of the European market resulting in significant consequences for the flow of goods that require clear, consistent and harmonised regulation at EU level. In addition, Article 22 concerning restrictions on the use of certain packaging formats and Article 26 concerning reuse and refill targets have been heavily revised, going in the opposite direction to the position adopted by the European Parliament in its plenary session last November, 22. In line with what Environment Minister Pichetto Fratin said, we hope that a perspective based on scientific evidence and not on a priori restrictions will be adopted in the trialogue. As can be seen from the text proposed by the European Parliament, packaging that demonstrates superior environmental performance over its life cycle and/or a high rate of separate collection and recycling should be safeguarded.

How is the Italian packaging machinery sector reacting to the digital transformation and what is the importance of digitalisation and artificial intelligence as competitive factors in global competition?

They are absolutely decisive factors. Many of our companies have implemented servitization and artificial intelligence systems in their machines, leading, rather than following, a trend in the world of automatic machine manufacturers. As Ucima, we are committed to supporting all companies, including small and medium-sized ones, to ensure they do not fall behind in the digital revolution and ecological transition challenges. We recently dedicated a conference to this crucial topic, underscoring its strategic importance, especially in the context of ecological transition.

In 2024 Ucima will celebrate its first 40 years: what is the association’s evaluation and what advancements can we expect in the future?

The balance of these first 40 years speaks of a healthy association, with about 180 member companies and a recognised role as interlocutor for the sector; both nationally, where we have strengthened our relations with the government, and internationally, where we have launched a campaign to promote the Italian sector called ‘We Make Packaging’. In recent years, the association has also grown in terms of structure and is now able, thanks to the network we created in 2020 with the other capital goods associations Acimac and Amaplast, to offer a wide range of top-level services that can help companies in their development and internationalisation. This important anniversary will be an opportunity for us to further promote our sector, which represents excellence in the made-in-Italy sector, and to reach out to the general public on key topics.

Discover insights from President Cavanna in this video interview.