IMTS: How Fun Was That?

IMTS is fun when business is good, and the 2018 edition of the show was one of the best.

My first IMTS was in 1980. With the exception of 2016, I have attended every show since then. There is no doubt in my mind that the 2018 edition was not only the best, statistically, it was quite simply a blast to be part of.

Our industry is having a great run. Business is good here in the states as well as around the rest of the world. One observation I make from my many years of attending this manufacturing extravaganza is the mood of the exhibitors and attendees is a read on the collective psyche of the industry.

When business is good, people are happy, friendly ready to talk and share. The good mood is contagious and makes the long days and many miles walked so much more bearable. Conversely, when business is not so good, the mood ring is not a very happy color. I’ve seen this, too, in my many times at McCormick Place.

But back to the 2018 show glow: Records fell by the wayside this year. Numbers that could only be imagined in the past are new standards and targets for the future. How long this run will last, nobody knows, but it certainly is a good time to be part of our industry.

I say that as a reflection of very good business conditions, but also as an overarching fact that speaks to the technological place that manufacturing finds itself. IMTS reflects this state of the industry by incorporating and highlighting Emerging Technologies. The Association for Manufacturing Technology – AMT-sponsored Emerging Technology Centers (ETCs) consolidated participating companies into pavilions, two of them at this year’s show. 

These ETCs are designed to give a glimpse at the future of manufacturing by showcasing state-of-the-art and disruptive technologies that are in the wings and fast approaching widespread implementation. In the North building, a Digital Transformation ETC demonstrated two physically and digitally connected automated cells with robots and CNC machines.

This interactive exhibit by CISCO showed their interpretation of what a shop may look like in a digitally connected manufacturing world. In addition, a demonstration of Athena showed the first universal, voice-operated assistant technology designed specifically for manufacturing. The “brave new world” is here.

Meanwhile, in the West Hall, the Additive Manufacturing ETC was streaming along at full throttle. The demonstration from Oak Ridge National Laboratory showed making a “die-in-a-day” which showed the four stages of die development, printing the die (Lincoln Electric), machining the die (Mazak), molding the die (IACMI) and 3D laser scanning the part (Quality Vision Systems). In this ETC, many disciplines come together to illustrate alternative manufacturing methods.

One of the hottest buttons on the minds of exhibitors and attendees is the critical shortage of worker candidates with applicable skills sets. In the West Hall ETC, a “Knowledge Bar” hosted by America Makes presented visitors with relevant information about the development of education roadmaps, an online platform for members to exchange information and gather input for the establishment of industry-wide standards and specifications for additive manufacturing.

I see the use of the ETC concept spreading in IMTS future shows. Technology is moving forward at an amazing pace in manufacturing. The successful application of digital technology is ready for modern manufacturing. It works and it helps, which has always been the litmus test of emerging technology show at IMTS through the years. Some of it worked, some wasn’t ready and some technologies fell by the wayside. All, however, had an airing at an IMTS in past.

IMTS 2018 was a record breaker. Registration for the show hit 129,415, which beat the previous record of 121,764 at the 1998 edition. As Peter Eelman, AMT vice president, mentioned in his opening remarks, 1998 was the dot.com bubble. That demographic fluke has been surpassed.

Moreover, there were 2,563 exhibiting companies which surpassed the previous high of 2,407 established in 2016. One more statistic, that heled make 2018 a record is the square footage of booth space. IMTS 2018 uses the entirety of the huge McCormick Place exhibition center with 1,424, 232 square feet of space used by exhibitors. That number beat the previous record of 1,415,848 square feet set in 2000.

By all accounts, the health of the IMTS exhibition is a bellwether for the health of manufacturing at large. As I’ve seen since 1980, it continues to bring the new, the practical and the best technology for the manufacturing community to “kick the tires” and take a test drive.