The Importance of IMTS

Busy manufacturers did not have time for IMTS this year. They came anyway.

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This year, registration at the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show passed the six-figure mark to reach 100,200—an increase of more than 21 percent over IMTS two years ago. That increase shaped the very experience of this show. Within McCormick Place this year, aisles were full, machine demos drew thick crowds and the Grand Concourse was coursing. If you weren’t there, I wish you could have seen it.

What does the attendance mean? This year in particular, it means a great deal, because of one other element that also defined this year’s show—a lack of time on the part of attendees. Most who are engaged in North American heavy industry have seen their time compressed and attention spans compromised because of increased manufacturing activity. This lack was a common theme in much of what I noted about the show this year, including all of the following observations:
1. Less Assembly Required. At this year’s IMTS, exhibitors seemed intent on communicating their recognition that the technology they offer is part of a larger process, and needs to work well within that process. In greater numbers than in previous years, exhibitors allocated precious booth space to accessories or equipment sold by other companies, just so they could show how the products fit together within a completed solution. In a time when the end users of equipment have little attention to give to systems engineering, it falls to suppliers to provide the integration.
2. We Will Teach You. An increased number of exhibitors this year also used the show to try to impart knowledge, in addition to displaying products. More than at previous shows, there were learning sessions in booths and small classes in rooms outside the hall. Again, manufacturers lack the time to keep current, leaving a role for suppliers as channels of expertise.
3. Loud and Clear. The exhibitors, too, lack for time. This impression came across. Exhibits often lacked the messaging or nuance that might figure into the booth design of a different IMTS. A major exhibit this year was likely just to loudly proclaim, “We are here!” (Though this is not a bad message for a time in manufacturing as active as this.)
4. The Next Generation. Where the more subtle messaging did exist, it often spoke about the straining talent pool in manufacturing. This is interesting, because no exhibitor’s product can directly solve this problem. Nevertheless, various exhibitors sought to make it clear, in various ways, how they are standing with North American manufacturing by supporting efforts to bring talent into the industry. 
Taken together, these two major elements—the increased attendance plus the lack of time—say something important about the show. On the one hand, attendees do not have time to spare, but on the other hand, they made time for IMTS. That is huge. 
Well-attended trade shows are not a given. We now live in a time when information resources are abundant. Yet learning about manufacturing technology at a distance is apparently not enough. Communicating with people through a conduit seemingly is also not enough. If it was enough, then people would not have made the trip. But because they did come, the important takeaway from IMTS 2012 is something very basic—a reminder of how much the show matters.