Tom Hogarth

Deputy Editor

International Leather Maker

First published in ILM’s Milan 2023 Innovation Showcase supplement

Visitors arrive at the Fiera Milano Rho in Milan this year with a number of expectations and a mixture of hope, uncertainty and concern for the future of the leather and leather products industries. In other halls across the venue, Lineapelle will help tanners gauge the direction of the leather trade going forward to the tail end of a year that has been difficult at best.

However, at Simac Tanning Tech, the focus will remain, as it always does, on innovation. Regardless of the tough times the industry faces, the machinery manufacturers keep their eye on the horizon and continuously strive for improvement and refinement. It is through their work as much as any other that the leather industry attains greater heights, proving itself in the realms of performance, efficiency and, perhaps most importantly in 2023, sustainability.

Such is the driving force of innovation in the face of uncertainty that, following the 2022 event, ILM had to publish its product innovation stories across two issues of the magazine. This year, readers will access more coverage than ever thanks to this supplement and its kind sponsors, a key sign that manufacturers are not slowing down.

Last year, the tone was one of the Milan trade shows returning to form, and this time around it will be an interesting experience to see how that progress is taken a step further, finally putting the woes of the pandemic behind the industry moving on to better things.

We spent a good amount of time discussing efficiency and traceability automation last year, primarily as a response to the dual issues of rising energy costs and traceability demands. Regarding the former, respondents to the recent 2023 ILM Tanner Business Confidence Survey revealed that rising energy costs have been a major issue over the past 12 months and, worryingly, will continue to be a threat for businesses going forward.

There is no doubt that visitors to the shows this year will be keeping an eye out for those manufacturers focusing on energy efficiency and “green” technology, seeking to increase their margins wherever possible to make it through this tough period.

Meanwhile, traceability has been a hot button topic for the past few years and appears to only be gaining importance. Automating traceability was a key focus in 2022 as tanners looked to establish this process in their production without sacrificing processing time. We will see in Milan how machinery makers have spent the last year improving on these key technologies and updating the industry’s approach to marking and tracing raw and tanned hides and skins as well as combining traceability and automated grading or defect detection in crust and finished leathers. Data collection goes hand-in-hand with these advances and will be another area of note, particularly important with LCAs (lifecycle assessments) under the spotlight and a growing call for full and transparent data on every area of leather production.

More than anything, the Milan shows (including Micam and Mipel) are a much-needed time for the industry to come together and make progress through discussion and collaboration. Visitors and exhibitors alike will leave Milan with fresh ideas and new contacts, and drive the next period of innovation and growth.

As Maria Vittoria Brustia, President of Simac Tanning Tech organiser Assomac, said at the 2022 event: “It is fundamental today to make Simac Tanning Tech a reference platform for new technologies in the fashion segment. Because of the difficulties of recent years caused by Covid, it still is the place in which people need to meet, create contacts and do business. There is an increasing need to find each other and collaborate in person.”

Brustia’s words continue to ring true in 2023 as tanners still keenly feel the separation of the pandemic and the time it took for trade shows and companies across the supply chain to find their feet again. The hope is that September 2023 will show that tanners have their footing secure and are ready to make the most of this prestigious event and the opportunities it offers both in new innovations and in networking. As always, the International Leather Maker team will be in attendance and we look forward to seeing you.