IMTS 2014 Showcases High-tech Future of Manufacturing

September 17, 2014

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) delivered on its theme, “come together, leave inspired” to more than114,000 attendees during the course of their show, which took place Sept. 8-13 at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Pre-registration numbers were at 98,169 attendees and by the close of the show registration was at 114,147 attendees, representing 112 countries. Those numbers are a 13.9 percent increase, compared with IMTS 2012.

IMTS covered more than 1.3 million net square feet of exhibit space and hosted 2,035 exhibiting companies.

Peter Eelman, vice president of exhibitions and communications for Association for Manufacturing Technology – the show’s owner, said he was happy with those numbers. While back in the dot com days they saw higher registration, Eelman said that in terms of real manufacturers attending the show, this is about as big as it has ever been.

Three trends highlighted on the showfloor were automation, new technology, and how data is handled. Eelman said that automation is key to the industry because there are not enough people in the workforce. As a result, machines have to do more.

MTConnect, an open and royalty-free communications standard that is revolutionizing manufacturing by providing plug-n-play communications and interconnectivity between manufacturing equipment and devices, was one of the innovations introduced at IMTS 2010. In 2012, IMTS demonstrated the capabilities of MTConnect, and by this year, it was considered mainstream on the showfloor.

It will be interesting to see if 3D printing, which was the focus of this year’s Emerging Technology Center (ETC), takes a similar path.

How do you showcase 3D printing? By printing (in 44 hours) and assembling (in one day) a 3D printed car in real time during the show. The car, Strati, was designed by Local’ Motor’s global community and built using the material science and advanced manufacturing techniques available at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

“What this vehicle highlights is a new revolution in manufacturing, which is the additive manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and 3D printing.” said Justin Fishkin, chief strategy officer, Local Motors.

The revolutionary part of this car is the light weighting and the parts reduction. A typical car has about 25,000 unique parts; the Strati has just 50 parts.

“The time it takes to do this will continue to dramatically decrease. In the future you will walk into an Apple-like store, choose the body of the car, choose the powertrain, and choose the wheels, and then go out shopping and stop back to pick it up,” Fishkin said.

You can’t talk about manufacturing’s future without talking about the younger generation. The Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS just about doubled in attendance this year.

Students of all ages attend the summit to learn about and interact with all the exciting technology available. In the Summit, students were able to play around with a miniature robot and then go up to the showfloor and see the same robot on a larger scale lifting a car.

Eelman explained, “A lot of schools have 3D printers, but then seeing it doing manufacturing has really jazzed up the kids.”

Not only were colleges participating in the Student Summit, but also several of the exhibitors as well. These exhibitors have embraced their responsibility to bring up the next generation.

One of those exhibitors was FANUC America. “It is imperative that we have students that come out of high school and college understanding our products being able to work in this industry. There is a tremendous skills gap here. At FANUC, it’s almost a corporate responsibility to partner with education to say we will help a school put in effective training programs,” said Paul Aiello, director Certified Education Training at FANUC.

Aiello said that many schools are saying they can’t keep students in the training program long enough. Students are getting jobs after their first year in the program.

That should be good news to Michael, a junior at Northern Illinois University of Robotics. “When I was a kid, I was always playing with Legos and the sets that had gears in it, that’s what started the whole thing. I’m in electrical engineering now.”

In high school, Michael was introduced to digital electronics, which is where his interests lie now. He said that robotics combines all the skill sets in his degree. It gives him practical experience that he feels is almost required by jobs now.

Social media also plays a big role at IMTS. Every day, they hold a “RoboQuest” contest where two Robosapiens™ Roxie and Ripley are hidden in different locations throughout McCormick Place. Hints, riddles and pictures that lead attendees to Roxie or Ripley’s location are tweeted throughout the day.

Once found, attendees can post a photo to Twitter using the hashtags #IMTS and #RoxieRobot or #RipleyRobot to enter a drawing at the end of the day for a prize.

IMTSTV runs the show Twitter feed at the bottom of the broadcast screen and attendees gravitate to the many exciting things happening every day throughout the show to pose for selfies and distribute them on their social media channels. Actual attendees and not models are shown in all their marketing which makes everything a bit more personal.

AMT also put a lot of emphasis on the 3D printed car throughout their communications and marketing for the show.

“That, from a technology standpoint, really anchored the fact that this show is about high-tech future manufacturing,” Eelman said.

As a result, the exhibitors have upped their game to match the perception of the visitors and are showcasing their newest technology.

“We’ve seen the building of that excitement in that we’ve been at 10 to 12 percent ahead of our registration numbers throughout the cycle,” Eelman said.

Exhibitor Eric Foelimer, manager, product marketing and marketing communications for Rethink Robotics, said that IMTS is a great opportunity in that there is no better way of getting both the quality and quantity of viable leads his company is looking for.

“This show delivers both,” Foelimer said. “We expect a lot of good opportunities to follow up.”

What makes IMTS so successful? “The key is to look at things from the visitors and the exhibitors perspectives; they want to be excited. Our theme is come together leave inspired, and part of that is you want to come here to learn something, you want to be exposed to something exciting. That’s what we try to put into the show, something that anyone would find exciting,” Eelman said.

Attendees Bryan Satchell and Ron Martina from Barnes Aerospace found a lot to get excited about. “We came here looking for honing machines, grinding machines, a little bit of everything,” they said. “But then we’re seeing things that are drawing us off our path,” Martina said. “It’s easy to get steered away,” Satchel added. “Yeah, way too much awesome stuff to look for!” Martina agreed.

Two different exhibitors expressed similar thoughts about the show. They said they do more business during IMTS than the entire rest of the year. One even said he wished the show took place every year, but IMTS is sticking to their schedule. The biennial show will return Sept. 12-17 to Chicago’s McCormick Place. 

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