The mood at the 27th edition of Bi-Mu—which attracted more than 60,000 attendees from all over the world—was vibrant, with many exhibitors expressing optimism about future business conditions despite coming off one of the worst years in recent history in 2009.
Visiting a foreign country is always a learning experience, and my trip last month to Milan, Italy for Bi-Mu, the biennial Italian machine tool, robot and automation exhibition, was no exception. For example, I learned that Italian espresso is quite possibly the most delicious coffee on the planet, medieval cathedrals are much more impressive in person than in pictures, and dividing roads into lanes is unnecessary. Likewise, I learned that the importance of looking both ways before crossing said roads is compounded in an area where scooters and motorcycles are known to zip through traffic—and even between cars—with wild abandon. Also, it is probably a good idea to have some idea of where you’re going before taking a long walk in an unfamiliar city where few speak your native tongue (and to double-check your travel insurance, lest you have an unfortunate encounter with a scooter or motorcycle).
However, the most important thing I learned is that Italian machine tool builders and other technology suppliers are extremely nimble in terms of responding to customer demand. For these companies, which are mostly small- and medium-sized enterprises compared to their counterparts in other countries, flexibility is the name of the game. As opposed to standardized models, they offer machines with a selection of axis travels, modular components like interchangeable milling heads, and other features that allow users to tailor them to specific applications. Large boring and milling machines were a common sight on the show floor, as were workholding and automation solutions designed to reduce setup time. View this slide show for a glimpse of some of the technology that caught my eye at the 27th edition of Bi-Mu.