Event report: National Manufacturing Week 2006

27 Mar, 2006

Can new venue perk up flagging trade show?

I wasn't sure what to expect at the 16th edition of NMW (National Manufacturing Week), which encompasses shows devoted to design engineering, industrial automation, enterprise IT and plant engineering. This year, the show moved from its traditional location at McCormick Place to the Rosemont area and the Donald A. Stephens Convention Center. In addition, Reed Exhibitions has been trying to sell the show.

The show once filled two exhibit halls at McCormick Place but in recent years, it has diminished in size. Attendance, too, has fallen from previous levels. This year's edition showed some encouraging signs of revitalization.

Kelvin Marsden-Kish, the Reed Exhibitions vice-president who oversees NMW, explained that although square footage was less than last year, in large part because booth sizes were slightly smaller at the new venue, the number of exhibitors increased from last year. He hopes that the new venue, with its four connecting hotels, will help foster a greater sense of community among manufacturers.

NMW is officially the annual gathering of NAM (National Society of Manufacturers), and NAM seemed to command a higher profile than in past years. Perhaps as a result of new NAM president John Engler's connections (he is a former three-term governor of Michigan), the keynote addresses featured political heavyweights such as U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guttierez and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. We'll have more on their comments in a future edition of Cadalyst Daily.

Costly Concerns
Engler says the biggest challenge facing U.S. manufacturing is rising external costs associated with healthcare, materials and energy, which manufacturers are unable to transfer to product pricing. In addition, qualified workers are getting harder to find, according to NAM's annual survey of 3,000 members across diverse industries and geographical areas.

Respondents were split on whether manufacturing would trail (44%) or keep pace with (43%) the overall economy in 2006. More than one-half of the respondents expect to increase capital spending and employment in 2006, and 53% currently have unfilled positions because they can't find qualified candidates. "The need for highly educated professionals specifically has nearly doubled from 2005, and we anticipate it will continue to grow in the future," says Engler.

CAD No-Shows
On the not-so-bright side, the move to the new venue apparently caused many CAD vendors to reconsider their participation in the event. Only UGS, SolidWorks and PTC had booths in the expo area. Autodesk had what Manufacturing Solutions Division vice-president Buzz Kross called a "limited" presence--the company sponsored a networking event after hours on Tuesday open to all attendees, and Kross spoke at a conference session. Equally noticeable was the absence of the smaller players in the MCAD space. Unlike in past years, companies such as VX, CoCreate, Kubotek (formerly CADKEY) and IronCAD were nowhere to be found.

Who was there? Many developers of CAE and CAM software showed up. On the hardware side, 3D printing and/or rapid prototyping system vendors were out in full force. Some vendors tested the manufacturing waters with products that could well interest a wider audience of CAD software users. Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at products and technologies on display this year.

Wait and See
Because NMW is audited, final attendance figures aren't yet available. My hope is that organizers succeed in recharging National Manufacturing Week. Events that take a broad industry focus deliver great value, as seen in some of the other markets Cadalyst covers. The AIA Convention, the annual gathering of the American Institute of Architects, seems to set an attendance record just about every year, and reports are that the expo floor for the upcoming Los Angeles edition is already sold out. The more diverse the attendance, the conference sessions and the vendors at the expo, the more likely it is that you'll encounter some new idea or technology that will really pay off.

Link to Part 2 of this report at: