Make the most of your next trade show
October 19, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

Q: What can manufacturers do to get the maximum benefits out of attending IWF or the other major trade exhibitions?

A: I am privileged to visit and work in many plants. Most times, I enjoy working with them and try to contribute to their profitability. However, there are times I'd like to choke some managers when I ask about having their people attend the IWF, SPESA and Interzum shows.

These managers say something like:

1. We don't need to go. Our vendors keep us up to date.

Response: Your vendors are responsible to sell what is in their bag, not necessarily what is better, faster and/or cheaper in the marketplace. Relying on vendors, who are stretched beyond belief, to spend time educating you and your people is not going to happen now or later. At best, they have time to say, "Hi. Any problems? No? See ya later."

Those manufacturers attending the shows are at least knowledgeable about the technology, equipment, materials and ideas being presented. The people I see at the shows normally represent profitable, growing companies. When I am asked to visit a company that is in trouble, I often find that their people haven't attended any show in years.

I think the difference between a highly profitable company and the opposite is that a highly profitable company is looking outward, unafraid to seek and try new ideas versus focusing inward and fearing new ideas as a threat to their status quo.

2. We can't afford any new equipment now anyway.

Response: You have to make a decision. Either you are going to be in business and be competitive or you are not. If you are not attending, and are sitting on the fence waiting for better business conditions, you are just postponing a decision to close your business or offshore it.

The cost of labor, utilities and materials is going to continue to escalate almost logarithmically. To compete, you must use CNC equipment and investigate new methods, ideas and materials. If you can't afford to go, I suggest you fold your tent now and save yourself the "death of a thousand cuts." If you believe you will offshore your business, you should investigate the number of offshore businesses that are trying to come home. Energy, politics, currency fluctuations, regulations, etc. yield no easy free lunch.

3. No one else goes.

Response: I guess that is why it is almost impossible to find a hotel room, and why manufacturers from around the world, whose labor costs are 10 percent of yours, flock to IWF to learn of the latest and greatest equipment, methods and ideas, and learn in the hundreds of seminars held at the show.

4. If we send people, they just party.

Response: Why not manage your people and ask them to present five new ideas or equipment that would have a positive impact on your company? Those who don't get to pay their own way to the show. Your people must understand that they are in a war for their jobs. The job winners will be companies delivering a consistent (quality) product, on time, at a fair price. If people are just going to party, they don't have a clue as to what is happening in the world today.

5. We're doing OK. We don't need to make any changes.

Response: The end that is sticking up out of the sand should be, and probably will be, kicked by technology and your competitors as they pass you by. Or, it will be stomped on and buried with the rest of you.

So what should you look for at the IWF show? Look at router technology, software demos, tool changers, tools, robotics and loader/unloader equipment. In addition, you should also check out new mechanisms for recliners, seating including webbing and T-nut installation.

There will be equipment to make your packaging material in-house by the push of a button. There is also fastening equipment that will intrigue you about the potential for producing and shipping subassemblies KD for freight reduction. New materials will be shown. You will also be able to attend a host of seminars held daily to educate on the latest thinking, ideas and procedures for profitable manufacturing.

6. There is nothing new in our industry.

Response: If you miss IWF in Atlanta, or go and can't find anything new, you should find something else to do for a living.

Stay current

So if you believe that you don't need to change, or at least keep current, and one day the owners or investors in your company come in and announce they are closing your company, or off-shoring your job, don't be surprised. It was because you couldn't get the job done while your peers continue to do well.


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About the author
George Koeninger

George Koeninger wrote a regular column for FDM and also Upholstery Design and Manufacturing magazines. He offered his experience and opinions on manufacturing management and product engineering.