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FABTECH 2023: A Gathering of Industry Leaders, Innovators and Experts

Hillary Cargo
By Hillary Cargo Senior Editor, SME Media

FABTECH, one of the manufacturing industry's premier events, made a triumphant return last week with a jam-packed schedule of special events, educational sessions and keynote speakers. The show, which attracted nearly 30,000 attendees in 2022, hosted over 40,000 industry professionals this year at Chicago’s McCormick Place. With a focus on showcasing the latest trends and technologies in metal fabrication, FABTECH 2023 did not disappoint.

Keynote Speakers and Innovative Trends

One of the highlights of the event was the "FABx Tech Talks" keynote session on the first day, featuring visionary leaders in the manufacturing industry. These leaders shared insights into the latest innovative trends and technologies shaping the metal fabrication sector. Speakers included Carol Reiley, a serial entrepreneur and AI roboticist; Slade Gardner, president of Big Metal Additive; Ben Wald, founder of Very LLC; Laszlo Gonc, founder/CEO of Next Era Transformation Group; and Joanna Cooper, general manager of Mount Holly Daimler Truck North America. Their discussions shed light on how these advancements are transforming metal fabrication processes and leadership strategies. Pro Golfer David Feherty entertained the audience with his keynote speech that day, as well.

Another notable session was the "Leadership Exchange—Advanced Manufacturing: Trends and Technologies Changing the Future of Metal Fabrication." Panelists, including some of the FABx keynote speakers, discussed the importance of embracing new trends and technologies to stay competitive in today's manufacturing landscape.

Day Three of the show opened with keynote speaker Erik Qualman, technology and digital leadership expert and author of “Socialnomics”. Qualman had his audience standing in their “superhero” poses as part of his discussion on “five habits that drive success and happiness for employees, partners and customers in a WiFi world.” Qualman’s presentation took the audience through a series of activities, asking them to evaluate what type of impact they want to make in a digital world.

With the nature of work changing fast, it was no surprise that a major theme discussed at the event was workforce development. Day Three’s panel discussion on “Leadership Exchange: Building the Future Workforce” was led by SME’s Jeannine Kunz, chief workforce development officer, and included Connie King, director of workforce development at PMA; Edward C. Dernulc, director of the FMA Foundation; Monica Pfarr, executive director of the AWS foundation; and Lara Threet, program coordinator and instructor for industrial technology at Mississippi State University.

FABTECH’s fourth and final day opened with a panel discussion on the “State of Manufacturing: 2023.” Key takeaways from this discussion included discovering insights from leaders on key trends in the manufacturing industry, examining new avenues of global supply chain diversification, learning how to boost productivity in the face of engineering workforce shortfalls, the exploration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on manufacturing and the consideration of the merits of sustainability in manufacturing and digital manufacturing implementation.

Diverse Educational Sessions

FABTECH 2023 also boasted an extensive educational program with over 180 conference sessions and workshops covering a wide range of topics. Attendees had the opportunity to delve into subjects such as robotics, automation, welding, smart manufacturing, job shops, and workforce development. These sessions aimed to equip industry professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in an ever-evolving manufacturing environment.

Empowering Women in Manufacturing

The event dedicated a session to the Women of FABTECH Breakfast, where panelists from various manufacturing roles within the primary FABTECH industries shared their career journeys. They discussed challenges, successes, and provided valuable insights for women in manufacturing. This session aimed to encourage and empower women to pursue careers in the industry.

Industry Night and Entertainment

FABTECH Industry Night provided attendees with an opportunity to network, socialize and enjoy entertainment at the McCormick Place Lakeside Center. The luau-themed event featured food, drinks, and entertainment, overlooking the Chicago Riverfront.

Looking Ahead

As FABTECH 2023 came to a close, industry leaders and professionals left with valuable knowledge, insights, and connections that will shape the future of metal fabrication. With an eye on the horizon, the manufacturing industry eagerly anticipates FABTECH's return to Orlando, Florida, in October 2024, as well as FABTECH Mexico in Monterrey and FABTECH Canada in Toronto earlier that year. These events continue to play a crucial role in advancing the manufacturing sector and fostering innovation across the globe.

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