Europe is different since the pandemic

Four years ago, I headed up my Editor’s Comment with: Don’t risk getting stuck in the ‘Iron Age’. My introduction paragraph began with: “WOW!! Is how one exhibitor described this year’s GIFA/GMTN 2019 exhibition and I could not agree more. The adage that it would be more or less of the same as the previous exhibition held in 2015 was dispelled within the first hour of walking the halls in the GIFA section.”

I really can say the same after GIFA/GMTN 2023. We had to wait four years and plenty has happened in our lives between the two exhibitions. Besides the key themes of sustainability, digitalisation, and circular economy new production technologies determined activities in the exhibition halls. But key amongst every exhibitor’s conversation was how to reduce waste, how output can be increased, how energy costs can be lowered and how carbon emissions can be reduced.

Automation, the use of robotics in manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and digitalisation all continue to grow at a rapid rate as businesses invest to remain competitive. Although it has not happened yet, there is a real fear about load shedding in Europe or as they prefer to call it: a reduction in energy supply. Here in South Africa, we have been dealing with the inconvenience for a number of years and many have taken steps to alleviate the difficulties it brings. Any disruption to service of what Europeans have come to believe is a right is going to really be a challenge for them if my trip to the airport on my return leg of my visit, is anything to go by.

Like all of the major cities in Europe, Düsseldorf has a train that runs between the airport and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) at regular intervals and is used by many. It has always been a mode of transport that I use as it is reliable and the cost is 10% of the price of a taxi. The journey started off with the train arriving 20 minutes late and then halfway to the airport it stopped at a station and everybody had to get off, without any explanation given. The train then left going in the direction it came from. My goodness was there plenty of agitated German spoken. It is not a routine that the locals and other Europeans are used to. Research shows that there are problems with the high-speed trains and there is a steep decrease in punctuality – not German at all. There are many reasons given and there is also much passing of the buck – again not German. It is going to be interesting to see their reactions if they do become beset with energy problems.

I also noticed a distinct deterioration in upkeep in the public spaces and the amount of litter that is lying around now, and you can see it has been there for some time, it is not what you are used to. The amount of homeless people or those that make their life happen on the streets because of tough times has also grown noticeably. Never a distraction in the past but now clearly the situation is becoming a challenge to authorities.

To the outside world, Germany has a reputation as a nation and country for being punctual, clean, very well run, industrial and productive and many other positive cliches but this is all changing. Politics and wars are having a noticeable impact. The push towards sustainability in production forming the future of production technology is noble but will it be attainable taking into account all these other challenges that Germany and Europe are facing.