A Peak Behind the Curtain
The value of a major trade show is that exhibitors give you so many opportunities to gain a leg up on your competition. Here are some insights to consider so that the next event you attend will speak directly to your bottom line.
Two of the world’s largest manufacturing shows, the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) and FABTECH, happen within a couple months of each other this year. While you won’t see BIG KAISER at FABTECH, we went all out, as always, at IMTS in Chicago this past September. Events like these demand it, especially for suppliers like us with a global reach. If you have, or plan to, attend either of these behemoth – literally and figuratively – events, what you will see represents years of planning and coordination, as well as major investments. With the show season now wrapped up for the year and having a little breathing room, I thought I’d give you a peak behind the curtain, a glimpse at what goes into large suppliers’ preparation for world-class events. I’ll also share what it all means for you as an attendee and how you can make the most of your next trip to a trade show.
Product managers make up the team that’s in the product-development trenches. By visiting customers and helping them find new and different solutions, they have their collective finger on the pulse of shop floors across the world. This not only affords them the opportunity to identify new trends and techniques in machining where current products may have a role, but also the chance to develop new additions to product programs that will be most helpful for customers. In our case, our Chicago-based team collaborates with counterparts in Japan, Switzerland and Germany, sharing what they are seeing take place in the field to help guide adjustments to existing tooling products and make an overall program that is more complete, and then to educate our broader team on the developments.
There’s no rest for the weary either . . . with IMTS being the keynote event on the North American schedule, shortly after this year was finished new ideas began filling the pipeline with the 2018 event in mind. Seeing the writing on the wall – the digital, shop-connectivity movement – years ago, our global team set out to find a way to collect and store useful cutting data and perform calculations for specific tools and cycles. The initial result is the first version of our boring app we debuted at this year’s IMTS. A show-only version displayed functionality where we were able to mirror the adjustment display of our newest prototype digital head, the EWD EVO, for easier in-machine adjustments, and storage of this data within the head. The public version of the app is currently limited to operation manuals and application data calculations based on user’s parameters for all existing boring heads.
Launched globally this fall, the app has been a prime example of a collaborative, event-driven development schedule. We’ll take the feedback of our visitors back to the development team to fine-tune the second release with more capabilities, along with being paired with the EWD EVO, going into production soon. What’s in all of this for you: seek product managers out at the booths that you visit. These folks have seen and heard just about everything with regards to how their products are being used on the shop floor. And while I can’t speak for other suppliers (though I’m sure they’re not too different), our team is always willing to talk shop, in fact, they love it. It’s a smart move to get some valuable engineering guidance for your specific applications – and to pass along some product ideas from your “wish list.”
Major events often fuel unique partnerships between suppliers. These come about because these suppliers are always in search of ways that their offerings can provide more complete solutions. As new products emerge – often at major trade shows and other events – so do the ways they can work together to solve problems or do something more efficiently. Collaborations like these usually start with an engineer seeing an opportunity and reaching out to a counterpart at another supplier. If they agree on a match, they’ll make a business case to their respective leaderships. They need to convince them that what they will be working on has real-world applications and that it’s worth the time they’ll spend on it.
One such example is the work we did with Fanuc this year at IMTS. We paired our Speroni heat shrink CNC presetter with a robotic arm that delivered cutting tools and removed the completed setup after shrinking, and vice versa. Completely unmanned shrink fit tooling, perfectly preset and ready to be put in the tool magazine. Think about that. Then we took that one step further to demonstrate an even more complete solution by pairing a similar robot with our automated workholding and using it for unmanned loading and unloading of parts into a Fanuc Robodrill machine. What’s in all of this for you: if you see a demonstration involving equipment from more than one supplier, take note. It’s very probable that what you’re seeing is “what’s next.” Know that the foremost experts in those respective technologies have likely put their heads together to make it happen. If you can find a way to replicate the process in your shop or can afford to invest in what you see, you’ll undoubtedly gain a leg up on your competition.
Everything you see in a booth is carefully calculated. And when I say everything, I do mean everything, from the shape, size, and location of the booth to where specific pieces of equipment are displayed in relation to each other, to signage and collateral materials. Factors such as drawing attention to the most important products and making the space easy to navigate influence these layout decisions, which fall largely on the shoulders of the marketing department, which is also responsible for getting people to the booth. They must find the best ways to get the word out about what’s new and exciting, along with organizing events that are both informative and entertaining for customers. They get the word out with press releases, mentions in existing email campaigns and dedicated blasts, advertisements in trade magazines like this one, and participation in programs the event producers offer as part of the exhibition package.
What’s in all of this for you: suppliers have dedicated experts on communicating to manufacturing professionals. These events are a chance for you to go to school on the materials and messaging being used by those in the know. Take a lot of materials home with you. In addition to informing you on products and services, you’ll probably also be able to pick up a thing or two about how to communicate to your own customers – and maybe some killer swag to keep that supplier fresh on your mind. That’s the whole point of marketing anyhow, right?