EMO--the Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Turning Point

Toward the end of this month (September 19-24) I’m heading over the pond as your proxy to visit the European Machine Tool Show—EMO. This year, it returns to the Hannover, Germany, fairgrounds. My plan is to visit as many of your suppliers as I can find and report back about what they are up to as far as new product developments. 

While it’s a long trip, it is also a very efficient use of time. Virtually the entire metalworking world will be hawking its wares at this largest exposition of its kind. This fairground is huge and filled to the gunnels with the latest and greatest products and processes designed to help manufacturers make things better, faster and at lower costs. It’s what we do.

This show is so big that the sponsors provide a shuttle van service for working press so we can more quickly move from building to building as we make our exhibit visits. They have a centralized press building where the formal conferences are held. Most of the conferences are in three languages, so I get kind of a United Nations feel as I listen to my usually British accented translator through a set of headphones.

The last time the exhibition was held in Hannover was 2007. You remember 2007—a year before the economy drove itself off a cliff. Well, manufacturing has made a remarkable comeback in the interim. I say this because the buzz for this edition of EMO is very strong and positive. The timing seems right for a good show.

On a more somber note, this year also marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. For many of us, that dastardly deed occurred while we were in Europe preparing to attend 2001 EMO. I was in the Czech Republic visiting an OEM near Prague when the call came on my host’s cell phone that New York had been attacked. We immediately tuned in to the BBC on the car radio and listened as the events unfolded.

Shortly into our day, another call came from the pilot who had flown us to Prague in the company’s plane that we needed to high tail it back to Hannover because the airport was closing in response to the attack. Ironically, Hamburg, where the terrorists originated, remained open. It was a crazy time.

Many of the Americans scheduled to attend EMO were unable to make it because of the shutdown of U.S. airspace. Needless to say, American attendance for that EMO was very low. However, for those of us out of the country on 9/11, it was truly a unique experience and an unforgettable one. Never in my life have I experienced such concern, sympathy and empathy as that shown to us by the international community assembled at EMO 2001.

As we approached the fairgrounds on 9/12, every international flag at entrance was at half staff. Every press conference began with a moment of silence for those who had perished and was followed by a statement of commiseration from the presenter. It was warm and heartfelt and really buoyed us from our grief. It is unforgettable.   

The show went on as shows must, but there was a palpable pall over the event which one would expect. Some of the multi-national exhibitors sent their American employees to various offices around Europe for safety sake. Nobody knew the width or breadth of the attack so caution was the rule.

Of course, with U.S. airspace closed and with no word on when it might open, we were scrambling to find how we could get home. I had my wife send me the number for a friend of ours who was an ambassador to Switzerland, so I could call him if things got weirder. Happily, I never made the call, but that gives a sense of how confusing things were for those of us in Europe in the early aftermath of the attacks.

Attending this year’s EMO carries with it a mixed set of feelings. I am excited about the new and interesting technologies that I will see and revisiting with friends and colleagues I’ve met in my travels. However, I will temper that some because of the memories of that terrible September day 10 years ago. I link it with the Hannover EMO and probably will forever. For those of us who experienced 9/11/01 from the other side of the pond, the memories are indelible. Like our countrymen, we will continue to move forward.