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Walking the Talk at IMTS 2018

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

I just returned from IMTS in Chicago and my first thought was, “where will I be able to rack up all those bonus steps I got last week?” On the easiest day, I walked 7.9 miles, and I topped 10 miles on two other days. It’s easy to understand why. The show ran from Sept. 10-15, filled 1.4 million sq. ft. of exhibit space and had 2,563 exhibitors. And there were a record 129,415 registrants, up from the previous record of 121,764 in 1998.

So other than walking around and navigating the crowds, what did I do? For one, I talked with lots of industry experts about trends and technology, such as:

Digitalization: Evidence of digitalization, Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing were everywhere. I interviewed Sandvik Coromant President Nadine Crauwels about several topics, including digitalization. She noted that the greatest opportunity for Sandvik Coromant is the added value that digitalization can provide to its customers, from design and planning to manufacturing and analysis. Traditionally, Sandvik Coromant has focused just on manufacturing, but today uses digitalization to serve customers throughout the value chain.

Digital manufacturing was also a focus for Heidenhain. At IMTS, it used its control systems to connect equipment from machine tool builders throughout the exhibition, including DMG Mori, GF Machining Solutions, Hermle, Kern and Takumi.

Automation: Robots and automation are penetrating every level of the industry, from large manufacturers to small job shops. Methods Machine Tools (which also had digital links with equipment in other booths) displayed ten engineered automation solutions, including a high-speed gantry-loaded multitasking turning center, a wire EDM cell, a deburring/finishing operation and an automatic workpiece inspection cell.

Additive Manufacturing: There was an exponential increase in additive manufacturing exhibits compared to two years ago. At the show, HP introduced a 3D printing technology for use in mass production: HP Metal Jet, for steel parts. It will be deployed initially with a production service where customers submit part designs. HP expects to produce hundreds of thousands of parts going into 2019.

Workforce Development: There was a keen awareness of the need for workforce development. A whole floor at IMTS was devoted to the Smartforce Student Summit, and SME sponsored a discussion about developing the digitally savvy professionals necessary to close the skills gap during a media roundtable. The discussion focused on two new SME reports intended to arm manufacturing employers with the data to implement critical operational processes that find, hire, train and retain talent.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did get to sit down a bit at IMTS—when I recorded podcasts with several industry experts at the ME recording booth.

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