IMTS: It's Manufacturing's Top Show

Jul 25, 2012

Mike Riley

Guest Columnist:
Mark Albert, Editor-in-Chief, Modern Machine Shop

What makes IMTS manufacturing’s top show in North America? Clearly, one answer has to be its value to attendees. More specifically, attending IMTS helps manufacturing companies address four key “success factors:” focusing on the customer, keeping up with new technology, engaging in continuous improvement, and training the workforce.

What’s significant about these four factors is that they have been cited as critical to success by some of the best metalworking companies in America. This finding is based on the results of Modern Machine Shop’s most recent Top Shops benchmarking survey, which aims to identify and measure attributes that characterize the most successful metalworking companies. This year, we asked respondents to identify the “machining technology or strategy that has contributed the most to the overall success of your business in recent years,” and the words and terms that appeared most often provided clues to what respondents considered important. The four success factors above emerged clearly as common themes among a diverse and far-ranging group of answers.

Few managers would dispute that all four are basic requirements in today’s competitive manufacturing environment. However, getting back to basics is often overlooked when shops are busy and managers are distracted by day-to-day pressures. That’s precisely where a visit to IMTS can help.

Invest in Technology

No other trade show in North America brings together such an extensive array of advanced manufacturing technology from around the world. Increasingly, exhibitors are structuring their displays to demonstrate complete solutions that involve related products from other exhibitors, such as cutting tools, software, monitoring systems, automation and so on. Show features such as the Emerging Technology Center and a number of technical conferences enhance IMTS as a venue to learn about new processes, techniques and applications.

The importance of continual investment in technology as a management priority was amply reinforced in answers to our open question. Most of these answers did not indicate specific targets for this investment, but rather a general principle of keeping up with new technology. As a matter of fact, survey questions that asked about spending on capital equipment and tooling showed that Top Shops outspend other shops in every category.

Training

Of course, taking advantage of the learning opportunities at IMTS helps meet the need to train a manufacturing company’s workforce. Walking the aisles of IMTS and studying the exhibits can be an education in itself. Many companies choose to bring younger or less experienced employees to complement and reinforce their on-the-job training.

The importance of training as a Top Shop management priority was clearly indicated in the survey. It was one of the most frequently mentioned factors among all of the responses. In fact, a number of responses singled out training as the main factor contributing the most to their shops’ success. Just as common, however, were responses that listed training and skills development alongside technology or some other shopfloor practice as a “strategic package.”

It is interesting that, although Top Shops and shops in general make training an integral part of the regular shop routine, formal classroom or off-site training is the exception rather than the rule. Many shops seemingly rely on the kind of informal learning that occurs while attending industry events and trade shows such as IMTS.

Lean Is the Thing

Regardless of whether IMTS represents the source of new equipment or new ideas, attending the show contributes to “continuous improvement” efforts that characterize shops on the move. Ways to advance as a leaner, greener, more integrated manufacturing enterprise will be common themes at this IMTS. For this reason, IMTS will be “right on target” for shops aspiring to be among the best. This is evidenced by the number of citations of “continuous improvement” in the Top Shops survey question results. It was the exact phrase respondents used most often to single out a shopfloor practice that contributes the most to success.

For many shops, setup time reduction is one of the most rewarding results of implementing lean manufacturing, because poorly managed setup procedures can hide much waste and inefficiency. Reduced setup time was a prominent theme in several responses. Also mentioned numerous times as vital objectives were “quick turnaround,” “short lead times” and “quick response manufacturing.”

Of course, setup reduction and other efforts to move to a “future state” with less waste usually involve a convergence of tooling, fixturing, part handling, programming, digital networking and other technology in an integrated, cohesive implementation. That’s why the collaboration of IMTS exhibitors who show complete solutions is more beneficial to attendees than ever.

Customer Focus

One striking characteristic of the body of survey responses was the conspicuous recurrence of a single word: customer. “Keep the customer happy,” “meet customer needs,” “respond to customer requests” and “guarantee customer satisfaction” were typical contexts for this usage.

IMTS is squarely focused on technology, so how does the show enable attendees to focus on their customers? It’s not a stretch to point out the networking opportunities that abound during the 6-day duration of the show. More importantly, IMTS has become a meeting point for manufacturing companies and their customers to bring together engineers, designers and planners to review or finalize projects.

Although a focus on the customer is a part of basic business sense, shops that develop and expand this advisory role have an advantage. For one thing, this approach shifts attention away from a “choose the lowest bidder” mentality to one of “find the shop that gives the most value.” For another, proponents of “reshoring” initiatives cite greater responsiveness and interaction as a key reason for large manufacturers and OEMs to return to domestic suppliers, job shops and contract manufacturers. Strong customer relationships are part of the appeal of reshoring. IMTS will definitely be energized by the resurgence in U.S. manufacturing and its strong response to reshoring initiatives.

Blend and Balance

Success in manufacturing seems to be an effective blend of technology and people. You might call this blend “know-how.” Know-how is not possessed equally among manufacturing companies. Some apply processes and equipment more productively and profitably than others, for example. Keeping the importance of this know-how in mind is a good way to balance the value of what machines and equipment can do and the value of what a shopfloor workforce can do.

In many ways, IMTS also represents this blend of technology and people. Visitors to IMTS will be better equipped to maintain the balance of these two in the years ahead. It is no secret that Top Shops maintain a balance of these capabilities at a very high level. For every manufacturing company aspiring to be a Top Shop, IMTS is the place to be. It’s manufacturing’s top show.