IMTS' Goal: A 'One-Stop' Showplace for Manufacturing Technology

The 30th edition of the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) takes place Sept. 8-13 in Chicago. With less than two months to opening day, the organizer, the Association For Manufacturing Technology (AMT), in McLean, Va., reports that 2,000 exhibitors will occupy 1.25 million sq ft of space in McCormick Place, filling all four halls. Attendance, which totaled 100,200 in 2012, is forecast to be up more than 10 percent this year, based on hotel rentals and pre-registration.

In this first half of a two-part look at IMTS, ThomasNet News highlights features and additions to the show, along with topics to be presented during the conference.

Peter Eelman Peter Eelman

But first, it's important to consider why IMTS is on a tear this time around. One reason, says Peter Eelman, vice president of exhibitions and communications for AMT, is that the event is a "one-stop shop" where attendance is mandatory for anyone who wants to stay current with developments and trends in manufacturing.

"The biggest point we emphasize is that manufacturing should take [that] week in September to look at itself and see what's new and coming down the pike," he remarked.

In the past, the success of IMTS often depended on buying cycles. No more, says Eelman, who adds that this show will be the industry's only chance for two years -- in North America, at least -- to get a complete picture of the manufacturing equipment, technologies, and capabilities that are available on the market. "There is no other outlet for this type of information," he said. "Attendance is important, whether a company is in a buying cycle or not."

Not that buying won't be a big part of the show. In addition to a general need for new equipment, there is pent-up demand from the 2008 recession, after which capital investment all but dried up. "The industry went through a period where almost nothing was purchased," Eelman said. "As business ramps up, the wear and tear on [pre-recession] equipment becomes more pronounced. There is the need for new machinery as part of the normal replacement cycle and a lot of catching up to do [from the recession]."

IMTS will offer exhibits, conferences, special pavilions, and, perhaps most important, networking opportunities between equipment makers, OEMs, tier ones, and many others looking to do business with machine shops.

Also, a new co-located event, Motion, Drives & Automation North America, will be a venue for products and capabilities in power transmission, motion control, and fluid technology.

Additionally, two events that debuted at IMTS 2012, Industrial Automation North America, also a co-located show, and the TRAM conference -- for Trends in Advanced Machining, Manufacturing and Materials -- will be back.

Industrial Automation North America is important, Eelman says, in the light of the shortage of skilled labor in manufacturing. The technologies there will help manufacturers address this challenge. "There is a big need to automate factories due to the lack of qualified workers," he said.

The situation is at crisis level, according to AMT. Based on the trade group's figures, there were 292,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States in May - hence the focus on automation as a way to reduce manufacturing's dependence on skilled labor.

The theme for IMTS this year is "Come Together," and Eelman says the event will have value for all attendees, especially those from small companies.

IMTSPIC2A Local Motors will build this electric vehicle design, called the Strati, on site at IMTS, using 3D printing.

"Small shops stand to gain the most from attending IMTS," he remarked. "It's one place where thought leaders and industry experts gather to share information. Small shops are often not called upon as regularly by large suppliers. Using the tools IMTS provides to plan a visit to the show, a small-shop owner and staff can gain access to the resources they need to be productive and stay current with industry developments."

Additive manufacturing, for example, will be of particular interest to many attendees, owing to its rapid growth as a method for design, prototyping, and low-volume production. IMTS will feature, possibly for the first time at any show, a 3D-printed car built entirely with additive manufacturing. An electric vehicle, the winning design emerged from a global competition sponsored by Local Motors of Chandler, Ariz., and was conceived for urban traffic. The Strati, as it's called, is the brainchild of Michele Anoe of Italy.

Eelman recommends that attendees prepare for IMTS by planning in advance, including which companies, exhibits, and conferences to see, and setting aside time to look for new and interesting equipment, capabilities, and business opportunities. Planning is important; there will be 13 miles of aisles to walk at McCormack Place.

Next week: A look at the TRAM conference, the nine pavilions of IMTS, the show's plans for student outreach, and social media.

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