It arrives four years later and with figures that invite hope in the sector. Some even speak of the “best” biennial in history. And it is not for less, because the data from the most important machine tool fair in Europe go back in many ways to the pre-pandemic era.

From this Monday, and until next June 17, 1,436 exhibitors from 28 countries have gathered at the BEC (Bilbao Exhibition Center). “A real privilege”, described José Ignacio Ortiz de Urbinaga, president of the Association of Machine Tool Importers, during the inauguration. And it is that, the sector faces each other again after the last edition had to be canceled due to the stoppage imposed by the pandemic, which meant “an unprecedented crisis”.

A return, which, according to José Pérez Berdud, president of AFM Clúster, has been produced “with a renewed spirit”, and with the “clear purpose of offering a physical and digital environment” in which a transfer of knowledge can take place that leads to to the construction of new businesses and collaborations. “Because the industry, competitive, digitized and sustainable, is, without a doubt, the engine of our country and our society,” he added.

The lendakari, Iñigo Urkullu, has even gone further and has pointed to the sector as a driving force for the future of a Basque industry that should be marked by a “cutting-edge, technological and digitally competitive machine-tool”. In fact, as he recalled, the Basque Country is the ninth largest producer in the world in the sector, and the third in Europe. It is also an industry that exports 90% of its production and employs 16,000 people. “We are a country with capacity and potential,” insisted the Lendakari, who also recalled that this fair is “an opportunity to show the world the industrial and technological potential” of the Basque Country.

The biennial aims to be the showcase of the future industry. It is a new generation of machinery that mixes the tangible qualities of high precision with the benefits provided by intangibles such as digital services. In the words of José Pérez Berdud, it has gone from being “a place where machines were bought and sold” to building an “industrial ecosystem that offers solutions to highly complex manufacturing challenges”.

With this philosophy, more than 3,500 innovative machines will be shown. Among all of them, everything related to additive manufacturing and 3D printing acquires special importance. In addition, digitization, the so-called industry 4.0 or data engineering will have their own space named BeDIGITAL. “The digitized and sustainable industry is the engine of our country and our society,” explained Berdud.

In the stands that have been set up these days at the Bilbao Exhibition Center (BEC), there is therefore a lot of talk about innovation, but one also comes across conversations about the economic uncertainty affecting the sector at every turn. According to data from the AFM cluster, companies managed to increase their turnover by 18.6% in 2021, but it is still not enough to compensate for the 20% losses they recorded during the pandemic.

To all this must be added the supply problems to which these companies are especially sensitive and which have worsened after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and high inflation which, in many cases, has increased costs. Ortiz de Urbinaga was, despite everything, optimistic about the future. In 2021, the companies in the sector registered an average increase in volume of 70% over 2020 and 30% over 2019. This is a fact that, despite the current economic uncertainty, augurs well in a contest «more necessary than ever.”