China Serves Up Stiff Competition in Table Tennis and Plastics Machinery

Table tennis as a commentary on China’s pursuit of Germany for global plastics machinery preeminence.


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Billed as a live-action personification of energy efficiency, a table tennis match between Germany’s professional ping ponger, Timo Boll, and two up-and-coming Chinese youth players more closely reflected the shrinking gap between the two country’s plastics machinery sectors. (Check out a slide show of the action).

Staged by the VDMA, Germany’s machinery association, and Adsale, organizer of Chinaplas 2015 in Guangzhou, the exhibition pitted 34-year-old German national Timo Boll, currently placed 7th in ITTF World Rankings, against two rising youth stars in Chinese table tennis, ages nine and 12.

Boll, the world’s No. 1 player as recently as 2011, towered over his youthful competition in size and game, and was certainly energy efficient in his play, dispatching the boys 11-2 and 11-3 in action that took less than 10 minutes, including warmups.

In game play, the Chinese youth showed flashes against the German veteran, with brief, albeit early leads, impressing Boll in the process. Of the 9-yr-old, Boll, who started playing at age 4 coached by his father, said the youngster’s skills were ahead of his own at the same age, with the potential to keep improving.

“He has the motivation, he will practice,” Boll said. “He’s still a little small and a bit nervous, but I think he’s a player who will practice hard and wants to be a good player, and I wish him luck.” Of the 12-yr-old, who dueled Boll to several lengthy rallies, the Germany professional spoke highly of his technique and aggression.

At the show, machinery executives also acknowledged the rising credibility of China’s game on the machinery front. In a sector that continues to grow, Chinese equipment makers’ share of the domestic market has risen every year since 2008, jumping from 49% in 2008 to 78% of the total “plastics machines” consumed in China in 2014, according to CPMIA.

Despite declines in 2012 and 2013, overall exports of Chinese made equipment have risen from nearly $1.12 billion in 2010 to just over $1.45 billion RMB in 2014, according to the CPMIA.

A key component for growth at China-based injection molding machine maker Haitian, which had record revenues ($1.21 billion) and gross profits ($395 million) last year according to Chief Strategic Officer Helmar Franz, was derived from record exports, which were up 13.1% in 2014 fiscal year to $375 million.

At the show, Ralf Pampus, director of strategic sales for Reifenhäuser’s blown film division and managing director for the company in China, acknowledged China’s rise as a rival to Germany. “The competition against local machine manufacturers is challenging,” Pampus said, acknowledging that firms like his can still differentiate but also noting that Chinese machine makers continue to improve.

The day before the match VDMA held a press conference to promote its Blue Competence energy efficiency push, featuring leading figures from top German firms. One of those, Karlheinz Bourdon, senior VP technologies at KraussMaffei, said of the exhibition match: “I’ll tell you what tomorrow is—the present playing the future.” He was of course, talking about table tennis, but in the years to come, the same sentiment could be said about Germany and China’s respective equipment industries.