More Than the Turnout

IMTS 2014 was notable not just for its attendance, but in other ways as well.

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At this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show, likely the biggest story was the attendance. Registered attendees numbered 114,147, which was up 14 percent from the previous show. But there was more. Beyond the turnout, here is what else made this year’s IMTS distinctive:

1. Additive manufacturing. Attendees this year were hungry for information on additive manufacturing, specifically how it could be applied to part production. Exhibits of hybrid machine tools (combining additive manufacturing with CNC machining) were often mobbed, and so were the booths of additive manufacturing companies, most of whom are relatively new to IMTS. The choice on the part of the show organizers to spotlight a 3D-printed car was fitting.

2. Automation. I wish I had a count of the number of robots at the show this year. Articulating arms were everywhere. Machine tool builders made a point of demonstrating their ability to integrate with robots, while exhibitors related to workholding and cutting tools demonstrated robots in roles such as setup and tool management. The exhibitors as a whole seemed to percieve that manufacturers are aiming to achieve more integrated and less labor-dependent processes.

3. Oil and gas industry. Historically, the industries targeted at IMTS have included automotive, aerospace and medical. Another industry segment has now risen to take its place alongside these: the oil and gas sector. The strength of U.S. energy production was evident at the show, with exhibitors throughout it offering large-bore turning machines, large-table machining centers and workholding appropriate to this equipment.

4. Youth. The Student Summit was a big success. Various exhibitors created additional, engaging exhibits for this special area of the show. Nearly 18,000 students, educators, administrators and parent chaperones visited these exhibits, almost doubling the number of attendees here from the previous IMTS. Perhaps I even saw attendees on the main show floor this year who had visited the Student Summit in the past (see next point).

5. Young professionals. This was the first IMTS at which I perceived a clear changing of generations. I’ve often held that manufacturing has passed over the so-called Generation X—people currently in their 40s. This was the generation discouraged from so-called “factory work,” so in relative terms, there aren’t many of us to be found in manufacturing careers. But at IMTS this year, I saw plenty of attendees one generation younger than this. Established manufacturing professionals in their 60s are being joined by up-and-comers in their 20s.

6. Buying activity. When I talked to exhibitors at the show about the high attendance, they often responded with statements like “Yes, and they are buying.” Attendees came this year ready or nearly ready to commit to significant purchases. As one exhibitor commented, there has now been well over a decade of under-investment in U.S. manufacturing capital equipment. Manufacturing activity has been high for long enough, and the forward-looking prospects remain sufficiently strong, that many shops now feel the time has come to undertake major investments.