Around 600 German companies with more than 60.000 employees are involved in the manufacturing of food processing machines and packing machines. According to VDMA (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau - German Engineering Federation), which officially represents around 270 food machine companies, the total value of food processing and packing equipment assembled in Germany reached 11.1 billion Euros en 2008.
This figure is especially determined by a strong contribution from subsectors as machinery provided for the beverage industry (1.7 billion Euros), engineered inputs for the meat processing industry (700 million Euros) and the production of packing machines. In these areas, similar to the area of machinery for dairies, sweet producing enterprises, bakeries or fruit and vegetables processing industries, new innovations are frequently introduced and processes are constantly optimized. Apart from operational safety, priority is given to resource and energy efficiency.
Machinery made in Germany is - on the one hand – made for clients in the domestic market. The German Federal Republic produces food and beverages worth 155 billion Euros integrating a working force of more than 500.000 people which turns the country the second biggest provider of foodstuffs within Europe. Hence, the food industry marks one of Germany´s leading industry branches. On the other hand, German food technology enjoys an excellent reputation throughout the world and it is the very industry sector where German machine builders are especially well established.
The branch is characterized by small and medium-sized companies which are usually technology leaders within their field of activity and provide state-of-the-art solutions for the global market. Given that exports account for more than 70 percent of business, the industry has been focused on international sales for quite some time: Half the machines sold to the global beverage industry are produced in Germany; in case of machinery inputs for meat processing companies the fraction is one out of three. The market share is comparable in case of baking machines, sweet production units and packing machines. German technology providers generate great part of their business volume in foreign markets and total up a large proportion of global business.
Thus, given the elevate importance of exports for total turnover, the economic crisis and slowdown of international trade has hit badly the sector which temporally lost one fifth of its volume in 2009. Nevertheless, business is gaining strength again: June 2010 saw a total amount of purchase orders 32 percent above the previous year. During the next decade high dependence on international sales may even help German producers given that total market size becomes depends more and more by the demand of emerging countries in Asia and Latin America. For these countries, the most dynamic growth is expected to happen in the beverage industry.
German companies owe part of their exceptional market position to the excellent reputation which enjoys mechanical engineering “made in Germany” in international markets in general. Safety in operation, outstanding workmanship and operating efficiency are the core elements which have made the machines an export hit in global business. Additionally, the strong preparedness of German providers of food technologies to invest in research and development has considerably strengthened the sector´s progress and consolidation. Although expenditures on R&D in relation to total turnover lag behind branches like automotive or pharmaceutical industries, investments in capacity innovation carried out by companies within the German food-processing industry double-up the European average and reassure their role as provider of trendsetting developments and technological achievements. As a research publication by the Centre for European Economic Research shows, most of the process innovations established by German companies of the food industry during the last couple of years have lead to quality improvement as well as to reduction in costs as consequence of mayor resource efficiency.
The firm will and dedication of German producers to invest in innovations can also be seen in case of the pioneering use of robotics within the food production chain. Closely linked to this, there is to be mentioned the continuous development of complex solutions aiming at further automation of processes. For example, the “minimal processing” in production chains within the meat processing business or packing processes which are entirely automated are to be taken into account. In case of the antiseptic bottling of beverages and fruit juices, as well as for the cleaning process of the utilized bottling plants, process innovations have been implemented during the last years. Also, the continuous broadening of the use of analysis software which subsequently has become a highly important tool to guarantee and control quality und serves for the optimization of old and the engineering of new products is owed in considerable proportion to achievements implemented in German firms. Current research, among other things, is focused on the further utilization of Pulsed electric field treatment (PEF) as a cell disruption method and new carrier substances. Growing demand for organic food and natural products is another source of inspiration for the development of new machinery and processes within the sector.
Investigation and development are highly stimulated by the well established connection between different academic disciplines. Due to existing cooperation networks, the industry is able to exploit the combined know-how of different sciences like biotechnology, nanotechnology and information and communications technology. Exemplarily for this development, the growing relevance of molecular methods in food analysis or the enrichment with different bioactive components in case of functional food should be mentioned. Nowadays, microbiological and chemical controlling is an integral part of production processes and has allowed establishing innovative measures in the field of food safety.
Last but not least, the excellent academic infrastructure can hardly be overrated: besides the elevate number of highly-qualified graduates finishing technology related courses like mechanical engineering, biology or nanotechnology, 19 universities, among them several for applied sciences, offer a total of 25 courses of studies with a special focus on practical application. Those courses, which allow an eminently specialized capacitating process, make available a multitude of up-and-coming researchers and potential employees for the industry. At the same time, the German Institute for Food Technology (Deutsches Institut für Lebensmitteltechnik e.V., DIL) is an important supporting institution for small and medium-sized companies which ensures the continuous cooperation between science and business through common alliances and co-financed projects.