Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fabtech 2012: Hiking through an oasis of lasers in the desert

Walking the 450,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center dedicated to Fabtech for three days is usually a chore. This year, the hike was made longer by the fact that the booth assignment for Industrial Laser Solutions was as far from the main entrance as one could get, against the far wall of the Center hall. Reaching this "home base" location after forays into the Center and North halls of the show at times felt like being a constant hiker to the summit of Mount Everest. You were glad to get there and rest, but apprehensive about doing it again and again as you tried to visit all the laser exhibits among the 1100 spread throughout the halls.

However, like good soldiers, my partner, associate editor Jim Montgomery, and I logged innumerable miles as we managed to see most of the exhibitors until we ran out of time, and energy, at the end of the third day.

As already reported, the show appeared to be a significant success. We did not hear any negative comments about the show, and for the most part the positive comments were effusive regarding the quantity and quality of the show visitors. Business was good, with many orders closed by exhibitors and with others piling up leads as the first two days saw a continuous stream of visitors in the dozens of aisles. As an aside, we wondered where all these visitors were coming from: after all, there isn't much industry in and around Las Vegas since it's mostly desert. So we surmised that these adamant show-goers -- more than 25,000 of them -- came from a distance and spent time and money to see metal fabricating and welding specifically.

On the morning of the final day, after a very strong Tuesday attendance, I recalled a video that was shot of me exiting the 2008 Fabtech (see below), which had been held in this same facility. My recorded comment was that the show had been a spectacular success, with many orders placed and prospects for the coming quarter projected as very bright. That show, like this year's, was scheduled a few short weeks after a very successful EuroBlech -- just as happened this year.

You will recall that 2008 was a year of indecision, where "cautiously optimistic" became a marketing manager's mantra, whereas this year it is "uncertainty." At EuroBlech and Fabtech that year, positive business news seemed to run counter to all the negative financial news in the media. However, in the first week of December 2008, the bottom fell out of the laser market as order cancellations began to flow in, and projects were summarily delayed.

Fabtech 2012 had an eerie feeling of déjà vu. On my iPhone were reports of a return of recession in Europe, unrest in Israel/Palestine, and the "fiscal cliff" in the US. Strangely reminiscent of the negative news in 2008, just of a different character.

I left the Las Vegas Convention Center with an unsettling feeling. Will 2012 be a repeat of 2008? My head tells me that things are different today, but my gut kept rumbling -- déjà vu. I sincerely hope it was just indigestion from the Brazilian Churrasco I had the night before, and not an indication of some negative news to come.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Industrial laser exhibition shows growth

There has been a growing interest, among the industrial laser equipment suppliers, for a trade show of their own in which to promote their products to potential buyers who attend because of this interest. The Laser Institute of America (LIA), an international society mainly known as the organizer of the world renowned International Congress on Lasers and Electro-Optics (ICALEO), stepped up to the plate last year and they organized the first Lasers for Manufacturing Event (LME).

The October 22nd second convening of this event, again held in Schaumburg, IL, was a larger version of the inaugural with an additional 30% exhibitors and a growth in attendance of 37%. Peter Baker, LIA executive director, told me that the growth of LME was akin to that old adage, "You must crawl before you walk." Consequently the LIA, with two years under its belt, has committed to another three years at the attractive and convenient Schaumburg Convention Center.

Attempting to slide an industrial trade show into an already crowded calendar is not an easy task. Many of these trade shows (IMTS, Fabtech, EuroBlech, MD&M, and even the LIA's own ICALEO) have industrial laser material processing related content, drawing away potential exhibitors and attendees. However LME is a truly different show -- it is a show of industrial laser suppliers showing their products to interested laser buyers. As more than one exhibitor told me this year, "The level of interest among attendees is of high quality because this is an industrial laser show, and the majority of visitors came because they have interest in this technology." Another exhibitor said they had doubled their orders this year over last year. Confirming this good news, 90% of exhibitors surveyed advised they will return next year.