One week of futuristic new products, courting new clients and political wrangling at the Hanover trade fair may have created a feel-good factor, but the world's economy is still reeling.
Business leaders in Hanover were looking for new ideas to fight the recession
The Hanover trade fair managed to keep exhibitor turnout high this week, despite an economic downturn that top economic institutes expect to be the worst since the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949.
More than 6,000 firms from around the world were on hand, looking for new deals and a much needed boost to their balance sheets. The traditional staple of the Hanover trade fair - the machine tool trade - was still the best represented sector on hand.
Trade fair boss Wolfram vom Fritsch has had a difficult year
However, the fair also focused on emerging industrial issues like energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and automated technology, with a message that these potentially cost-cutting endeavours could prove the best way to fight recession.
"If the situation is difficult you have to look to the costs, you have to look to your customers, and you have to look to the future," Wolfram vom Fritsch, the chief executive of the Hannover trade fair, told Deutsche Welle.
"Because, once the crisis is over, the companies that will be successful are those that are right into the issues of the future, and we are sure that energy is one of those issues. It's an issue that can bring you a short-term return on investments and it's an issue with a long-term impact."
Saving energy, and money
The energy harvester lets factories say bye bye to batteries
Production efficiency is a growing concern in the industrial sector. As firms look to cut costs without slashing jobs, cutting down on overheads like electricity usage is becoming ever more important.
The British firm Perpetuum showcased one example of innovative energy-saving technology. It's called an 'energy harvester', and it generates electricity from the vibrations of its surroundings to power battery-powered devices.
"I think the first benefit is you no longer have to change batteries," said chief engineer John Parker. "If you have 5,000 censors on your industrial plant, and your average battery life is two or three years, you will be changing 10 batteries per day. With our device you no longer have to do that, secondly it uses waste energy, so it recovers the energy from the motor, and thirdly, you no longer have to dispose of batteries which have nasty chemicals inside them."
Even the major players like Siemens, Volkswagen and Phoenix concentrated on their energy saving credentials at the fair. Volkswagen brought only its fuel-efficient 'Blue Motion' range of cars to Hanover.
"Fuel efficiency definitely is one of our top priorities, if not the top priority," said Juergen Leohold, the head of corporate research for the Volkswagen group. "We contribute to the prevention of climate change, and we help our customers save on fuel, which gives them a financial advantage, too."
Planning for the future
The robotic soccer world championships don't have a recession to tackle
Rather like the major communication and information technology trade fair CeBIT, also based in Hanover, the 2009 trade fair put a great emphasis on the importance of futuristic technology. While businesses are struggling at the moment, they are still looking for ways to emerge from this recession one step ahead of their competition.
Automated technology and robotics featured heavily at the fair. Robotic science was even showcased through the German round of the autonomous robot soccer World Cup, where teams of robots battle it out on the football pitch. The standard of play may not make this sport worthy of the nickname 'the beautiful game', at least not yet, but it's still an astounding sight.
However, the robots of real interest to the more serious trade fair goers performed more modest tasks. Some can transport stocks around warehouses without a driver, others are designed to lead customers to certain products in stores, eliminating the need for a shop assistant to do so, while a few are designed to perform simple production line tasks in factories.
The political trade fair
Merkel with South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo on opening day
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Prime Minister of partner nation South Korea Han Seung-soo, and German President Horst Koehler are just a few of the high profile politicans who attended this year's fair. The financial crisis has turned the world of business into one of the most important political playgrounds, especially here in Germany with a general election looming in September.
While exhibitors in Hanover touted their wares, the German parliament convened in Berlin to debate how to best tackle the deepening recession. Politicians discussed whether a third stimulus package was necessary to keep the German economy going, but exhibitors in Hanover and the event organizers felt that they didn't need a government handout, rather they needed easier access to credit from cautious banks.
"We in Germany tend to differentiate between the real economy and the financial economy," said Wolfram vom Fritsch of the Hanover trade fair. "And most of our exhibitors see the problems in the financial economy, and see the problems in financing their orders, they say they're struggling to finance good orders. So we all look forward to more regulation in the financial sector, and we all look forward to more readily available liquid assets."
Wolfram vom Fritsch admitted that the economic climate for the 2009 Hanover trade fair has been anything but rosy, but he thinks the event has helped the industrial sector to fight back in the face of recession.
"I think CeBIT and the Hannover trade fair have shown that they are more than just fairs, they are a marketplace - as we call it - where you can interchange between politics, science and industry."
This interchange was arguably more important in 2009 than ever before in the fair's 62-year history.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Chuck Penfold