The balloon that serves as the symbol for the International Manufacturing Technology Show is not a bad metaphor. The mood at the show this year—held in September at Chicago’s McCormick Place—was buoyant. Attendance was up. Attendees and exhibitors were serious and busy.
Still, let’s not generalize. IMTS 2006 drew more than 91,000 attendees to see almost 1,300 exhibitors in well over 1 million square feet of exhibit space. Numbers such as those are so huge, they are too big to contain inside of any pat generalization about what was new or significant about the show this year. A lot was new or significant. Therefore, in place of generalizations, here are just a few impressions. As the editors of Modern Machine Shop canvassed this year’s show, the Metal Cutting Pavilion in particular, here is what we saw:
- Lots of robots. This was a visible difference from past shows. Not just robot suppliers had them on display, but various machine tool builders showed them as well—wishing to stress their ability to provide fully integrated robotic systems. Clearly, the machine tool companies have perceived the demand for automation.
- Many more big machines, as well as significantly more machines doing tiny work. Parts that are too big to ship economically and parts demanding precise machining of tiny features represent two classes of work likely to keep growing in importance for U.S. shops.
- Oilfield and medical emphasis. The traditional industry segments emphasized at this show have included automotive, aerospace, die/mold and job shop. Those segments were all served this year as well, but now the list has grown to include the oilfield and medical segments. Plenty of machine tools were touted specifically for medical or oilfield machining, and at least one exhibitor had an oil-drilling bit featured prominently in its display.
- Multi-process machines in multiplied abundance. These machines have expanded in variety well beyond the live-tool lathe. Demonstrations at the show included turning on a grinding machine and grinding on a turning machine, as well as EDM and waterjet within a common platform and machining centers able to perform turning as needed. As for the live-tool lathes, these have grown in size, and some have also improved enough in milling versatility that it hardly seems fitting to call them lathes anymore.
Examples of new or important technologies we found at IMTS this year will be covered in this magazine throughout the months to come. We can’t fit it all in one issue, let alone in one article. As a result, what follows is not a summary. What follows should not even be considered the highlights. Instead, here is a sample of what you might have missed. Even if you were at the show, you might not have seen these sights, because you just weren’t able to get to everything within those million square feet.