IMTS 2014: The Draw Was the Technology

First and foremost, manufacturing professionals attend trade shows to see new technology. New technology is what they got at this year’s IMTS.

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In this column, Pete Zelinski describes some of his impressions about last week’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). He also mentions some of these points in an IMTS wrap-up interview that he, Mark Albert and I filmed during IMTS. You can watch the video here.

Along those lines, here are a few of my show takeaways:

• Technology. This year, exhibitors didn’t employ as many “gimmicks”—non-manufacturing-technology attention grabbers to attract attendees to their booths (racecars, celebrities, etc.). Instead, it seems exhibitors chose to leverage their new technology to entice visitors to stop in. You know, the stuff they need to make their operation more productive and the reason why they’re at the show in the first place.

Given how busy booths were across the board, I’d say the concept worked. In fact, we applied a similar approach to our company’s IMTS booth design where we highlighted our strengths: original content, data and manufacturing information.

• Five-axis equipment. Forty-four percent of the shops in this year’s Top Shops benchmarking group perform five-axis positioning or full five-axis contouring work. Five-axis machines as well as indexing equipment to enable five-axis machining were evident throughout the show. And while contouring is the more alluring of the two five-axis operations, many shops find it exceedingly advantageous to position workpieces in five axes to access nearly every side of a part in one fixturing.

• Machine looks. Equipment OEMs continue to develop more stylish machine tools. It costs more to make enclosures with rounded features instead of sharp corners; however, it’s appropriate that the advanced technology inside machines be wrapped in a more modern look. These certainly are not your father’s machine tools in terms of form or function.

• Automotive. The automotive industry is hot these days, and this means a healthy amount of gear production. Technology for gear production was on hand in the show’s Gear Pavilion as well as McCormick’s South Building, which featured multitasking machining centers that could also perform gear machining.

• Automation. Pete mentions the wealth of robots at the show. He’s right: You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting one. But there was also an increased presence of collaborative robots, robots designed to work alongside humans sans protective safety fences. These types of robots have the potential to change what a shop floor looks like and how shopfloor processes are developed, and it will be interesting to see the degree to which industry accepts this alternate automation option moving forward.