I will admit that I was not planning to go to the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) this year, but I was asked to participate in the LIA Industrial Laser Conference and to give a talk at the Student Forum, so I decided to go for only a few days. Of course, waiting until the last minute meant no hotel rooms in the city for less than $500 per night, but in this case it may have been a blessing, as the hotel union workers were on strike at most of the downtown hotels, making things very difficult in the best case. But with tens of thousands of show attendees coming and going, the logistics got to be somewhat annoying for some people.
The show was just booming during all of the time I was there. The Student Forum was mobbed during most, if not all, of the operating hours—and these students are for the most part looking for jobs in the manufacturing sector. Let's look at the metrics: There were 129,415 total attendees, which is a record—with the previous record being 121,764 in 1998. I think this is quite interesting in that the old record, set in the booming telecom days, stood for 20 years! By comparison, in 2016 there were 115,612 and in 2014 there were 114,147, so attendance jumped by 13,803 (or 12%) from the last show!
There was 1,424,232 sq. ft. of floor space used for exhibits—up from the previous record of 1,415,848 sq. ft. set in 2000. In fact, I heard that there is no more floor space available at McCormick and for the first time, this show maxed out the available space. Again, I find this interesting in that the record attendees in 1998 set up all of the companies into thinking 2000 would be a great show, so they reserved floor space in advance, only to find the market starting to level out by 2000 show time! There were 2563 exhibiting companies using 2123 booths (both up from records of 2407 and 1808, respectively, set in 2016).
According to Peter Eelman, exhibitions and business development director at AMT, "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." Historically, about 25% of the registered attendees identify themselves as corporate management (as opposed to engineering, sales, etc.) and these people are the ones signing checks!
This year, the West Hall was pretty much dedicated to additive manufacturing. It was a bit bewildering for me because it is really not where I have spent most of my professional career, but also because there is so much new stuff and so many new players—and old players playing in a new game. I talked with the people at EOS, a German manufacturer of laser-based additive manufacturing systems. They are doing both metals and polymers and supplying everything from an R&D or development machine to a fully automated system with load, unload, cleaning, etc. At the show, they unveiled their M300-4 system for digital industrial additive manufacturing production. The standard build volume is 300 × 300 × 400 mm and it is configurable and scalable using many options. Inside, there are up to four fiber lasers and four galvos all operating simultaneously over the same build field, to 4X manufacturing volume. Typical laser power is 400–1000 W. Fellow Industrial Laser Solutions (ILS) Editorial Advisor Stan Ream thought the Renishaw people were showing the most accurate and interesting laser additive manufacturing system at the show—talk about an old company with a new trick!
I will close with a little story from the past that I told on stage at the LIA event. One of my fellow panel speakers this year was Dr. Marshall Jones from GE, a well-known industry luminary and Schawlow (among others) Award winner. When I was a young pup in the laser industry, I was invited to do a panel discussion with fellow panel members Marshall, ILS editor-in-chief David Belforte, and Dr. Andy Tam, one of IBM's top laser production scientists/engineers. These guys were all already luminaries in the laser field and I was just a young nobody at one of my first talks. I also think this was the very first time I met David Belforte. All were very gracious, though, and here we are almost 30 years later—three of us still going at it (we lost Andy years ago). What a great fate all of us have shared in being involved in the laser industry all these years!
I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected].