Manufacturing

Technology Takes Center Stage at IMTS 2006

5 Oct, 2006 By: Jeffrey Rowe

While many trade shows are waning, IMTS is gaining momentum and offering exciting opportunities for the manufacturing sector


With the advent of the Web and other electronic and digital marvels, I rarely attend trade shows and industry conferences anymore. I’m not exactly alone, either, as attendance at most traditional trade events has dropped off dramatically during the past decade. However, I attended IMTS (the International Manufacturing Technology Show) 2006 a few weeks ago in Chicago and found it to be very worthwhile. Again, I was hardly alone, because at this event, attendance exceeded 91,000 for the first time in six years. It occupied more than a million square feet, so there was literally a lot of ground to cover.

Beyond its sheer size, what was impressive about IMTS? Well, there were tons of manufacturing technologies to check out -- everything from robotic workcells to multi-tasking machining centers for cutting metal to software for controlling all of the robots and machines -- plus some indications of what the future might hold for manufacturing.

The Future of Manufacturing Technology

New technology was displayed throughout the halls, but a couple of the show highlights that were especially noteworthy included:

The Emerging Technology Center, which showcased ideas from some of the most innovative researchers of manufacturing-specific technologies nationwide, and also presented new learning from government laboratories, universities and the private sector.

The NIMS (National Institute of Metalworking Skills) Student Summit exposed nearly 5,200 students to career opportunities in manufacturing through hands-on learning and interfacing with industry professionals. Nearly 50 exhibitors participated in exercises designed to increase attendees’ knowledge of products and services, and talked to students about rewarding careers in the industry. NIMS is also in the process of developing a strategic vision for preparing tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce.

At IMTS the unspoken -- but universally acknowledged -- issue is that workforce efficiency is the United States’ number-one manufacturing goal. The two biggest challenges facing manufacturers are not machine-oriented, but people-oriented. Namely, skilled workers are in limited supply, and they don’t come cheap.

Skilled workers, to remain competitive, need tools -- and many of the tools can be found at IMTS. When properly implemented, advanced manufacturing technologies can turn untapped potential into increased levels of productivity.

With all that we hear about the general sluggishness of the economy, U.S. manufacturers continue to demonstrate their need for the capabilities of new equipment and technologies. According to AMT (the Association for Manufacturing Technology), the organization behind IMTS, there was an 18% increase in the United States’ manufacturing technology acquisitions in the first quarter of this year versus 2005.

Increased demand for new manufacturing technology is enjoying its third consecutive year. AMT estimates that manufacturing technology consumption grew 8% in 2005, after a monumental rise of 43% in 2004. Although the workforce has diminished, this level of continuing technology demand has helped U.S. manufacturers attain unprecedented product output levels.

Advances in manufacturing technology that primarily affect hardware and software have made today’s equipment more productive than older models. AMT claims that a manufacturer could replace just about any machine more than 10 years old, and make money by doing so.

“Huh,” I thought. The savings come from increased output, higher quality and reduced labor cost, even though the typical worker would be more skilled and technically savvy.

I guess the moral of IMTS is that continued investment in manufacturing equipment, other technologies and people is essential for remaining competitive.

The Vital People Factor

As I’ve said in previous columns, technology might get a lot of the glory in manufacturing, but it’s the people that make it work. What are some of the equipment and technology skills that a manufacturing person with a solid future might possess? That person must be able to:

  • Prepare production equipment for operation by making equipment setup adjustments and assisting with equipment changeovers
  • Maintain and operate production equipment.
  • Document production processes through production logs, calculate production statistics and track the flow of materials through the various processes.
  • Compile production information by collecting and sorting production records.
  • Maintain production operations by making equipment adjustments, solving line problems and conducting preventive maintenance on production equipment.
  • Prepare production reports by collecting, analyzing and summarizing production data.
  • Calculate material use for maintaining material inventory records.
  • Increase productivity by enhancing production equipment, installing line modifications, making process adjustments and recommending improvements.
  • Maintain parts and material inventory in order to keep up a steady production level.

Obviously, this isn’t your manufacturing workforce of old. The above skills are increasingly considered a starting point for manufacturing organizations of all sizes and types. Much like manufacturing engineers have done in the past, all parties must now be able to handle all aspects of manufacturing when solving problems.

While the CXO or purchasing manager may ultimately make the financial decision when purchasing manufacturing equipment or related technologies, it’s essential to carefully consider the feedback and input from the machine operator who will be running the equipment or using the technology on a daily basis.

IMTS Returns in Two Years

IMTS is held every other year. The next show will be held September 8-13, 2008, in Chicago. Although it’s almost two years in the future, I’m looking forward to being part of it. Trade shows in general may be a dying breed, but this one seems very much alive and poised to continue well into the future, and that’s a good thing as far as manufacturing technology is concerned. For more information, go to www.imts.com.


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