Doug Woods and IMTS: The Past Is Prologue

By beginning his career in the manufacturing industry learning from his grandfather, Doug Woods, president of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, has seen major shifts in technology. Lessons he learned from the past are still applicable in finding value in today’s show.


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Doug Woods remembers his first IMTS. It was 1978. He was with his grandfather. Woods was 18. His grandfather and eight others had started a tool and die company in upstate New York. Woods, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, had started his apprenticeship in toolmaking at age 15.

IMTS was much smaller in 1978 than it is today. Woods recalls that it took his grandfather and him three solid days to walk the show because his grandfather would not simply walk by the displays of machine tools and cutting tools and accessories, but would stop and look at what was there. He would talk to the people in the booths, trying to learn new things that could, perhaps, be applicable to his company—if not immediately, then perhaps in the not-too-distant future. “He would see a little something in almost every booth: fixturing, a feature of a machine, a tool,” Woods says. And he wanted to learn more.

Fast forward from 1978 to 2018. Woods is now the president of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. Whereas his early memories at the show include the then-developing CNC technology and things like electrical discharge machining (EDM), which seemed like a totally different concept (putting a workpiece in a tank of fluid and removing material with a graphite electrode), today he says that the levels of technology on display are unprecedented. It is no longer just individual machines with digital controls but machines that are networked and connected to the cloud. While metal removal (subtractive manufacturing) is still important, additive manufacturing is now growing with developments from startups and veterans alike.

Woods says that one of the things that AMT has been doing for the past several shows is organizing what they call the “Emerging Technology Center” (ETC), an area where technologies that may have an effect on manufacturing five to 10 years out are displayed and demonstrated. Because manufacturing technology is evolving so rapidly, what might be thought of as “technology of tomorrow” is something that’s being used today.

This year there are two ETCs, one dedicated to the digital transformation that’s occurring (located at the North Building) and the other to additive manufacturing (at the West Building).

Forty years ago, when Woods attended his first IMTS, there were a number of machine tool companies that were established by entrepreneurs who launched a variety of innovations for machining and forming parts. Then, however, there was a period when innovation was reduced as there was an increasing amount of attention paid to quarterly results. Woods calls this period the “doldrums.”

Woods says that today, there is arguably a renaissance driven by such things as sensors and open-source software, and an entire movement of people who have decided that making things is important. There is a burgeoning number of start-ups creating manufacturing equipment, taking advantage of the advances that have been made in the digital space and applying it to the physical.

What’s more, he points out that large companies that have long concentrated on providing various types of metalcutting machines are now fully engaged in developing hybrid machines—combining subtractive and additive—as well as digital technologies that help advance overall equipment effectiveness. “You will see some major players,” Woods says, “that are doing things radically different.”

In addition to which, Woods points out that there are companies including Cisco, HP and GE that are at IMTS not as attendees, but as exhibitors, as they realize the importance of manufacturing technology and are investing serious money in their endeavors.

So what does a guy who has been attending IMTS since 1978 (admittedly for different reasons since he joined AMT in 2009) recommend people do at the show?

“Walk through the aisles and think, ‘Is there anything that I might buy that would change the way my company makes products, that might put us ahead of our competition?’”

Said another way: What would Doug Woods’ grandfather do?