If trade shows are a reflection of the business sectors they represent, the recently concluded International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) at Chicago’s McCormick Place offered up some very good news about manufacturing.
The biennial exhibition posted attendance of 100,200 - the highest number since 2000 - and featured four new emerging technologies.
Peter Eelman, vice president of exhibitions and communications at the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), the organization that produces mega event, said he believes that the strong showing of IMTS bodes well for the economy.
“In the last couple of years, as the economy has kind of bumped along towards a recovery, one of the strongest parts of it has been manufacturing,” he added. “When the industry is performing well and strengthening, IMTS performs well and strengthens.”
In addition to the stellar attendance figures, this year’s installment of IMTS performed better than the 2010 show in other key metrics.
It also posted an increase in the number of exhibitors (1,909 exhibiting companies) and square footage (1.24 million net square feet). These numbers demonstrate that the sector, which normally lags the general economy, is gaining steady momentum.
Attendees chimed both onsite and online with comments about the event. Lee McClellan, mechanical design engineer for Driv-Lok said, “The show is definitely much larger than in the past.”
He was off in search of solutions in one of several pavilions focusing on manufacturing processes. @trimfluids tweeted “Exploring #IMTS today. All the new innovation in manufacturing technology is impressive.”
IMTS’s Emerging Technology Center, a feature that was first introduced in 2004, showcased the current “disruptive” manufacturing technologies on the showfloor:
- MTConnect - a software standard (developed by AMT) that allows machines to “speak” to one another.
- MTInsight - a business intelligence tool (also developed by AMT) that produces data and insight for manufacturing business leaders.
- Additive Manufacturing - a process that incorporates 3-D printing technology into manufacturing.
- Collaborative Manufacturing - the process of “crowdsourcing” manufacturing design.
One of the highlights of the show was a crowdsourced car. The vehicle is the brainchild of Local Motors, a Phoenix-based auto manufacturer that uses Internet participation and competition to build cars.
A completed vehicle was on display during IMTS and another was being assembled using the same collaborative process during the show.
IMTS also is a microcosm of the international manufacturing industry. As in the past, the show was crowded with firms from across the globe. It also welcomed attendees from 116 countries. “We continue to grow Asian attendance, particularly China,” Eelman said.
Exhibitors were clearly pleased with the attendance at the show. “I’ve seen a lot more volume (attendance) this year than in 2004 when I was first here,” said Jim Weller, chief engineer at ABB, Inc.
His firm has exhibited at IMTS for sixteen years. Weller visibly could see the flow of visitors from the front of the exhibit hall to the rear where his firm was exhibiting.
IMTS is one of the largest shows to have occupied Chicago’s McCormick Place since sweeping union labor work rule changes were instituted last year.
“We are in a new era here. My exhibitors are very pleased with where we are right now,” Eelman said. “(The work rule changes) allowed us to put aside discussions that shouldn’t have any place in why a company would exhibit at IMTS. That’s off the table now.”
Although Eelman doesn’t necessarily consider IMTS a bellwether, he stands by his observations that manufacturing and the econo my are closely knit.
“The fact that (IMTS) is busy, strong and large is an indicator that this is not an anomaly,” he added. “Manufacturing is indeed continuing to strengthen. Everyone is feeling that with these indicators, there is a confidence that the production rate and an improvement in economic conditions is really here.”