Next week, over 100,000 buyers, sellers, and manufacturing junkies from around the world will descend upon Chicago’s McCormick Place to browse the endless halls and miles of machines at the 31st International Manufacturing Technology Show.
If you’re headed that way, you’d better get ready; this year’s iteration of the biannual event is going to be massive.
Spanning around 1.36 million square feet, IMTS 2016 will bring in over 2,000 companies showing off 15,000 of the latest machine tools, controls, automation gear, and all the peripherals imaginable. It will include the biggest machines, the smartest software, and enough cutting edge innovation to knock the whole industry sideways.
This year, the show will be divided into 10 pavilions covering everything from traditional metal cutting and tooling to CAD and cleaning, with some exciting additions mixed in between.
It will be so massive that the Association for Manufacturing Technology, which runs the event, has added a whole new floor (C Hall on the lower floor of the North Building) to fit it all in.
If the current trajectory holds steady, it looks like it could be close to a record year.
“We’re going to be not quite, but almost at an all-time high as far as size,” says Peter Eelman, AMT’s vice president of exhibitions and business development. “I hate to jinx myself, but we are tracking around 4.5 to 5% up on registration [compared to last year].”
On the face of it, these expectations might seem a little hard to swallow. The last IMTS, back in 2014, was a massive success, pulling in over 114,000 attendees and featuring some incredible on-site spectacles like Local Motors 3D-printing an entire car right on the floor and driving the thing out at the end of the show. That’s a hard act to follow.
Furthermore, since the 2014 show machine tool orders have been extremely soft as the manufacturing industry finally flattened its capital investment climb out of the recession.
So why is this year’s show expected to be such a draw?
In a word: Innovation.
Where Innovation Comes to Life
“IMTS, through its focus on manufacturers and especially through the focus on emerging technologies, has become a much deeper and vital show for the industry,” Eelman explains.
That focus, he says, will make this year’s event stand out from the 30 before it.
“This is the show where technologies find applications,” he explains. “It’s a cross between theory and action, and crossing that divide with a number of technologies.”
This year, that includes all of the biggest trends in the industry.
Across the floor, mixed between powerful CNCs and giant, engine-toting robots, will be a solid mix of autonomous vehicles, virtual and augmented reality gear, wearable devices, collaborative robots, and, permeating it all, the digital thread of the Industrial Internet of Things.
“The Internet of Things and how you apply digital manufacturing into current operations will be demonstrated throughout the show,” Eelman says. “Digital manufacturing was a somewhat nebulous term a few years ago; this is an opportunity to go and actually see it in action.”
These innovations aren’t limited to industries outside the show’s machine tool roots, however.
“There will be a whole gamut of new machine technologies this year,” Eelman explains.
As an example he notes Mazak’s plans to introduce a cryogenic machine in its reliably jaw-dropping booth.
Cryogenics, he says, is a perfect example of what IMTS is all about.
“It’s something that is still really out there; it’s a technology that hasn’t found its sweet spot yet,” he says. “It reminds me what additive manufacturing was a few years ago—it’s starting to move from a concept to somewhere where it will be really useful. It won’t be long now until it’s a standard machine.”
Also, in keeping with that theme, IMTS 2016 will include the most recent graduate of its Emerging Technology Center: 3D printing.
“When we invented the Emerging Technology Center 12 years ago, we wanted to showcase technologies, watch them incubate, and then see if they graduate into the mainstream show,” Eelman says. “This year, 3D printing technology is in the process of graduating into a pavilion of its own, showcasing technology that is available for you to buy right now today.”
And this, he says, is what to watch for this year.
“This is the show where ideas are finding applications,” Eelman explains. “I think this is true for additive, it’s true in autonomous vehicles, and it’s true for digital manufacturing.
“I think people will look back at this show and say this is the event where many technologies started to make that jump from concept to functional reality.”
Check out the slideshow for our picks of the most exciting innovations to hit the floor this year. You can also browse our coverage of IMTS 2016's biggest product releases on the NED Directory.