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Manufacturing Community Reconnects at Automation Focussed IMTS 2022

With handshakes, hugs, high-fives, and hearty backslaps as people greeted each other after four years apart, the connectedness of the manufacturing community was the literal showstopper at recent International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). Held from Sept. 12-17 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, IMTS 2022 achieved a total registration of 86,307, including 11,715 students, and featured 1,212,806 million square feet of exhibit space representing 1,816 exhibitors and 1,603 booths.

“While the excitement and electricity were clearly evident in every aisle of the show, what was most gratifying for the industry and the country was the scope of commerce taking place as visitors sought out, and found, key technologies and productivity solutions to move their businesses forward,” says Douglas K. Woods, president of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and produces IMTS.

“At IMTS 2022, the manufacturing community achieved something that hasn’t been done since World War II: it brought our industry back together after a worldwide disruption. We proved our resiliency, but we achieved much more,” adds Peter R. Eelman, chief experience officer at AMT. “The digital technologies and other new products at this show aren’t just advanced: they are accessible, inclusive, and ready to be implemented by small and medium-sized businesses regardless of their workforce composition.” 

Automated System Focus

After the human connection, IMTS 2022 will be remembered as the show of a thousand robots. Exhibitors integrated robots, cobots, and other automated functions to machining centers, welding systems, tooling centers, workholding pallets, inspection systems, and more.

“The automation systems at IMTS focused on ease-of-deployment, iPhone-level programming simplicity, and affordability for small and medium-sized businesses,” says Tim Shinbara, chief technology officer at AMT. “Visitors could find new startup automation companies and spinoffs in every hall, and every one of them introduced solutions for high-mix, low-volume applications to help job shops address their workforce and productivity issues.” 

Automation solutions at IMTS 2022 also combined the flexibility of a collaborative robot (cobot) with an autonomous vehicle that can drive around a shop and tend multiple machines without human intervention. Two exhibitors had eye-catching demonstrations of this technology. Staubli Robotics introduced the new HelMo mobile robot system, equipped with multi couplings, a tool-changing system, and a tool station. Nachi Robotic Systems demonstrated a CZ10 cobot arm mounted on an EffiBOT autonomous mobile robot simulating machine tending work.

Eric Sun, owner of Orange Vise Company in Placentia, California, was intrigued by the Zoller roboBox, which automates tool management, including storing all the tool measurement data. “This roboBox really caught my attention because it automatically changes end mills inside of shrink fit holders. To us, it is a huge leap forward because tool life is generally what bottlenecks horizontal machine centers. We’re very lean, and this type of technology kind of shows how we’re moving forward in the right track.”  

“Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty in the economy right now, the pressure on labor is not letting up,” adds Joe Campbell, senior manager, strategic marketing and applications development at Universal Robots. “Shops have an immediate problem to solve today, not six months from now.”

IMTS Investor Forum

The inaugural IMTS Investor Forum, powered by AMT, featured curated tours on additive manufacturing, digital technology, machining, and automation and was designed to help the investment community understand the opportunities in manufacturing. Presenter David Burns, principal and founder at Global Business Advisory Services, notes, “With the number of innovative products hitting the market now – cutting across the entire swath of automation and digital technologies that change the way we manufacture parts – we’re in a period of time that will not be paralleled again for decades.” Burns points out that manufacturing technology orders per sale continued to increase from 2019 through 2022 and that they will continue to accelerate as companies use technology to compensate for a smaller labor force.

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Editors Comment:It was great to see that the IMTS organizers did not scrimp and remove the physical paper show guide from their budget as has been the case with many European Exhibitions this year. These guides have no much value on the day and remain a ‘buyers guide’ on attendee desks for months/year to come. Navigating a show only using kiosks and a phone app is frustrating. Given the money generated by exhibition organizers future exhibitors should lobby for show-guides to remain part of the attendee visitor experience at trade-shows.”