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GFMC 2017 Challenges Audience with Change

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By  Pat McGibbon, AMT Vice President - Strategic Analytics

(AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology owns and operates IMTS – The International Manufacturing Technology Show.)

Change was the unwritten theme of this year’s GFMC event in Atlanta. The format changed, the schedule was reinvented, and the content was spiked with examples of how our customers’ businesses are evolving. Throughout the conference, speaker after speaker noted that a change in course will disrupt our present way of doing business; that every attendee needs to be aware, prepare and dare to lead the evolution of our markets. 

No less than three general session speakers challenged the audience with clear evidence that the combustion engine’s stranglehold on transportation is less than a decade from being replaced by alternatives. Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of Analysis at the Teal Group, noted that aircraft engine makers have made “thrust as a service” profitable and that this model will gradually become the norm in doing business in the future in other areas as well.

To adjust for the depth of information that would be shared, workshops were held the afternoon before the opening reception. These were not lectures; they were hands-on workshops delving into specific examples raised by attendees such as how to increase your market share overseas, where to start, with whom do you work, and what obstacles to expect.

Also discussed was how to effectively use social media in marketing: how to stay on top of social media interaction, pitfalls in managing social media relationships, and how to get started. Another topic, how to get value out of the data you have at hand, where to find market data, how to produce meaningful metrics, and how to layer data in meaningful ways was discussed.

Those who didn’t participate in the workshops were able to tour the largest commercial aircraft maintenance and repair facility in the United States at Delta’s Hartsfield TechOps. This tour was booked to capacity as were two of the three workshops. People raved about the tour and the hands-on learning experience of the workshops.

The presentations during the next two days included plenty of new content. Public policy issues are not new to the conference but are usually reserved for the presidential election years. This year’s electrifying political scene clearly deserved representation on the agenda to attendees on the challenges ahead with tax, trade and healthcare issues.

Speakers on specific industries, other than auto spoke for 30 minutes rather than an hour. Forecasters spoke 45 minutes to an hour. The format worked very well! Forecasters’ outlook for 2017 was positive ranging from modest single digit increases in orders to increases in the teens. The outlook for the beginning of 2018 through third quarter was equally positive. Three of four see the acceleration in growth slowing into 2019 while one expects a mild downturn in manufacturing technology orders in 2019.

The customer industry experts seemed a little more optimistic except for the two auto experts who believe that changes in demographics and technology will lead to less spending in powertrain production equipment.

The policy experts expressed concern about the likelihood of meaningful tax reform and that this will likely impact other important programs for our industry such as infrastructure spending. The mood of the audience was one of optimism. Most attendees were seeing positive growth in 2017 and were expecting growth to accelerate into 2018. There were the extremes as well; one attendee who is still reeling from the decline in oil prices found no solace in Craig Pirrong’s energy outlook while another noted that he had already booked double 2016 order levels and at the current pace would post the company’s largest year ever. Nearly everyone remarked that the changes in the conference were excellent, but at the same time were uneasy about the change our speakers suggested would occur in the not-too-distant future. 

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