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Record Trade Show Crowds Tell Promising Story

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In mid-September, I stepped away from the suburban offices of Metal Center News to venture downtown. The destination: the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show at McCormick Place in Chicago. And this year’s event could best be described as a sea of humanity crashing the shores of a thousand robot islands. 

The hallways and aisles at McCormick Place were teeming with visitors, taking in the latest developments in automation, additive manufacturing, cutting, sawing and forming equipment, among other processes. And the enormous convention center straddling Lake Shore Drive was barely big enough to contain the exhibitors and their machinery. 

In every way, this year’s show set records. Registrations totaled 129,415 individuals, 6.2 percent better than the record number of attendees set in 1998. Exhibitor companies grew 6.4 percent to 2,563 over last year, using a record 1.42 million square feet of floor space. 

“IMTS 2018 set records because manufacturing technology has grown exponentially since the last show. The rapid growth of digital technology, automation and additive manufacturing are especially driving interest. The booming manufacturing economy means visitors have capital and are ready to invest,” said Peter R. Eelman after the conclusions of this year’s show. Eelman is a vice president of exhibitions and business development for the Association for Manufacturing Technology.

Eelman’s explanation will be put to the test again next month, this time in the South. FABTECH will make its return to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta for three days in November.  And based on preliminary figures, the experience is likely to be repeated. Organizers are anticipating record turnout for both attendees and exhibitors. Attendance is expected to grow double digits this year from the 30,830 attendees who walked the floors in 2014. 

“This is the one event that gives professionals from small job shops to the largest Fortune 500 manufacturers first-hand access to the expertise and knowledge they need to expand skill sets and boost productivity,” said John Catalano, SME senior director, FABTECH, about the appeal of the trade show’s educational offerings. 

Throughout the course of 2018, we’ve followed many of the indicators of the health of the industrial economy, and most of them have pointed in the right direction. Publicly traded companies have posted tremendous financial gains quarter after quarter. Shipments of steel and aluminum have enjoyed healthy boosts from the previous year. And prices, aided by the visible hand of government, have remained at appealing levels for mills and service centers alike. 

But I’m not sure those figures speak as loudly about conditions as the attendance and enthusiasm on display at events such as these. These traits reflect an optimism about the years to come and highlight the interest in investing in the machinery that will help companies capture the gains they expect the manufacturing economy to deliver.