Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Here in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday to give thanks for the good things that have happened since the last celebration. It’s a feast day in every meaning of the word: a time for overindulgence in food and drink and, for some, for unending doses of football, both live and on television.

In my family we treat this as a family holiday; an opportunity to gather as many as possible to enjoy a sumptuous meal and each other's company. I like this holiday because there is no pressure to find gifts as will be the case at Christmas.

This year, I as the host, will make brief remarks about the celebration. What I won’t be saying to the family is a comment about the relief I have that the economy has turned, especially in the industrial laser markets, and the pleasure I have with the remarkable recovery and return to profitability this industry has experienced.

Two years ago, on Thanksgiving, we were on the cusp of what was to be the worst recession in laser history, only we did not know it at the time. A year ago the first glimmers of the end of the recession were appearing, even though we were to experience a few more months of uncertainty, and at Thanksgiving I could have included this optimism in my remarks at the feast.

Having said this, I rail at those who, for some undisclosed reason, are trying to dampen the pleasure of the recovery by dire predictions that what we are enjoying is ephemeral at best. The ugly words “double dip” have reared their head again. All the indicators we use to measure the health of the manufacturing economy have been positive about recovery and growth. And yet the naysayers interpret this same information negatively, choosing to find flaws in the reasoning and "debunk" market indicators.

So as I ponder on this, after a magnificent dinner, my satisfaction level is not quite as full as my stomach. So I am ignoring the naysayers because business prospects are good, and this does not include the fabricated metal sector, which is the last to return to profitable growth. My forecast for the coming year is modest increases in all segments, and secretly I think it can be better than that.

So, I sit back, satisfied that all is well; at least on the feast day. Isn’t that what it is all about?

Friday, November 12, 2010

FABTECH a big success

The numbers are in from the organizers and sponsors of Fabtech 2010, and the results are even better than our instant analysis indicated. A 12% increase in attendance over the 2006 Atlanta show and a 23% increase in exhibitors over that event gave lie to the pre-show babble that Atlanta was not a good venue for fabricating and welding technology.

Congratulations to the organizers (the FMA, SME, AWS and PMA) and all those 1100+ exhibitors who had faith that a) the market was recovering and b) the Southeast remains a hotbed of fabricating technology.

Sample comments from exhibitors: “We got more leads out of this show than all the others combined that we’ve participated in.” And from another: “Everybody’s positive about the future, and things look and feel a lot better then they did a year ago.” From an attendee: “I now know this is the one place I need to go if I want to find the latest technology to improve processes, reduce costs, and stay competitive.

I said earlier that I had seen many smiling faces at Fabtech and now I know why; it was a better show than last time and that one was, in my mind, a great show.

Let’s hope the enthusiasm from the exhibitors and attendees lasts into the New Year to kick start the recovery in the fabricated metal products sector.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fabtech: the buzz was on fiber laser cutting

Trade shows, especially machine tool shows, are strange animals. They seem to have a life of their own, taking on an atmosphere that may echo current events such as EMO Hanover opening the day after 9/11, where a pall hung over the fairgrounds. Shows can also reflect the economy, such as Fabtech 2008 in Las Vegas, where exhibitors were euphoric, still riding a high that resulted from an overheated EuroBlech a few weeks earlier. I recall watching the crowds using the escalators at that convention center and commenting about their smiling faces.

Sometimes, exhibitors are reserved and cautious as a show starts, mirroring the popular feeling in the streets outside. At Fabtech Atlanta, the show opened on election day, and inside the convention center, it was like nothing was happening outside. I spoke with large numbers of exhibitors and attendees and never once did the subject of the elections come up until I prompted a response relative to opinions on business conditions for 2011.

I haven’t seen the numbers and show analysis for Fabtech yet so these observations are mine, but similar to many I spoke with. Fabtech 2010 was a success: Some said a good show; some, including most exhibitors, didn’t hesitate to call it a great show. Certainly the traffic on the first two days was satisfactory, relieving concerns that the Southeast fabricating markets were not booming as they were three years prior. Before the show I had heard reservations by exhibitors and attendees, a common one being the markets in the Southeast were still in recession and that the region could not support a large fabricating show.

Well “they” were wrong again, as they were three years ago. The action in exhibits that were showing advances in laser cutting technology were heavy at all times. I happened to overhear a group of three attendees standing in line for refreshments, checking their watches to insure they had time to see a last fiber cutting demonstration.

Fiber laser cutting seemed to be a common thread among those I spoke with; whether out of curiosity or advanced knowledge, I gathered that this technology rang a bell with a large sector of the visitors who were looking at laser cutting.

So, being as provincial as I can, let me say that those showing fiber laser cutters at Fabtech had a great show. As for those who chose not to do this year's Fabtech for one reason or another, have faith because I heard many comments about those of you who have or are about to have a fiber laser cutter from show attendees.

In my September/October review of fiber lasers cutters on the market, I speculated on the fiber laser's impact: Would it just pirate sales from CO2, add to the markets, or do a little of both. The jury is still out, but it is obvious that fiber laser cutting caused a buzz, a term that is out of vogue but appropriate. For me that’s enough because it seemed to be a reason for the crowds at this year's Fabtech, with the follow-up is in the hands of the sellers.