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4/30/2014 | 2 MINUTE READ

Fire in the Hall

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A full cup-production system, with a sheet extruder feeding a thermoforming machine inline, will register passing interest from the average showgoer. If that line bursts into flames, however, you can count on much greater curiosity.

Guangdong Designer Machinery Co. Ltd. drew quite a crowd to its Chinaplas booth on Friday of the four-day fair at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC), but rather than admire the machine’s design or ask after its output, fair attendees reached for their phones to capture images of flames shooting from the forming station, as Designer Machinery workers and expo center staff doused the clamp with fire extinguishers.


Down the aisle from Designer Machinery in Hall W1, extrusion die manufacturer Cloeren Incorporated soon became aware of its show neighbor’s travails when those flames gave way to acrid smoke, which quickly filled the hall and brought an abrupt end to a customer meeting.


Alicia Cloeren, Director of Business Development, said her team debated whether to abandon their booth, with only two hours left in the show for that day, and W1 enveloped in a choking haze of extinguished plastic. As they did so, Cloeren noted that no alarm ever sounded or sprinkler engaged at the SNIEC, nor did show or fair grounds staff ever advise exhibitors or attendees how to proceed.


After emptying multiple extinguishers on the conflagration, SNIEC security staff attempted to create a perimeter around Designer’s booth, with guards unfurling security tape to create a makeshift barrier. At either end of the hall, larger doors were fully opened in an attempt to dissipate the smoke.


At times like these, it’s perhaps helpful to remember that the massive SNIEC itself, like the rest of the Pudong area of Shanghai, was a swamp a little over two decades ago. The pace and breadth of Pudong’s development, like the rest of China’s, is stunning, and some things might fall by the way side in the mad dash.


Elsewhere in Chinaplas’s halls, you could see exposed water and power lines, which would be neatly (and safely) tucked away at western shows, as well as floors strewn with pellets and robots and machines running without fencing or safety guards. As you judge that seeming lack of sophistication, you still must acknowledge how far the industry and country have come.


Between halls, as I dodged scooters, attendees and shuttles with a native Shanghainese, he helped put China’s progress in perspective. Some 20 years ago, we would have been surrounded by bikes; 10 years ago, those bikes gave way to scooters. Today, most of those scooters are becoming cars, as 2013 vehicle production shot up nearly 15% to world-leading 22 million.


I’m guessing earlier NPEs and K shows had their own machinery mishaps or other malfunctions. Hopefully Chinese equipment suppliers, like their western counterparts, will understand the necessary premium that must be placed on safety. Designer Machinery got crowds to its booth, but I’m guessing it didn’t sell that machine.