The 27th edition of the biennial BIEMH international machine tool exhibition attracted 34,000 attendees and 1,171 exhibitors from all over the world to the Bilbao Exhibition Center (BEC) in Bilbao, Spain May 28 to June 2. This year’s show saw a 9 percent increase in visitors from abroad, a welcome development for Spanish machine tool builders that are increasingly focused on markets beyond not only Spain, but Europe in general, mostly due to the economic situation there. Among those foreign visitors was Modern Machine Shop editor Matt Danford, who reports that China, Brazil and India were frequently mentioned as key export targets.
Less frequently mentioned but also on the radar was the United States, where Spanish builders see opportunities in the form of an invigorated manufacturing sector and large base of potential customers. Those opportunities have spurred most of them to strive to do better in the U.S., despite significant hurdles. One common lament was that the sheer size of the American market makes it difficult to penetrate. Likewise, the high number of already established competitors can pose challenges for even getting noticed in the first place. Also, exchange rates haven't been favorable for the Spanish exports, although the dollar was trending stronger relative to the euro at the time this article went to press.
Other cited difficulties seemed to have more to do with the nature of the Spanish builders than external factors. These mostly small to mid-sized companies--more than 85 percent of which are based within 50 miles of Bilbao in northern Spain's Basque region--offer mostly very large boring and milling machines that embody a different production philosophy than counterparts built elsewhere. U.S. manufacturers, they report, often choose more familiar machine configurations rather than exploring the possibilities of using interchangeable spindle heads to reduce setups. Likewise, the fact that most of these machines are custom-built in low quantities dictates the type of customer relationship that can be difficult to foster given some of the aforementioned difficulties of breaking into the U.S. market.